COMUF: THE FIRST RECLAIMED URANIUM MINE IN CENTRAL AFRICA
The AREVA subsidiary COMUF operated the Mounana uranium deposits close to southeastern Gabon for 40 years before conducting rehabilitation operations there until 2006. The sites are now kept under radiological and environmental surveillance.
COMUF, the Compagnie des Mines d’Uranium de Franceville, was established in 1958 following the discovery of the Mounana deposit in Gabon in 1957 by the Commissariat à l’énergie atomique (CEA, the French atomic energy commission).
COMUF, a subsidiary of AREVA, has a 68.4% stake in the company, while the State of Gabon holds 25.8% and the remaining 5.8% are held by the SGCF (Société Générale Commerciale et Financière) and small shareholders. AREVA has operated COMUF since 1986.
From 1961 to 1999, COMUF operated 5 of the uranium deposits, in both open pit and underground operations in the province of Haut-Ogoué: Mounana, Boyindzi, Oklo (54% of the uranium produced), Okélobondo and Mikouloungou.
In all, more than 6.4 million tons of ore with an average grade of 3.73‰ were extracted before being concentrated in a site processing plant. Annual production varied from 500 to 1,500 tons of uranium, depending on the period. COMUF produced more than 26,600 metric tons of uranium.
For nearly 20 years, COMUF had more than 1,000 employees, with 80% of them coming from Gabon. Mining operations also generated many indirect jobs at Mounana, with the construction of housing, a hospital, schools and vocational training centers, and the development of infrastructures (tarred roads and a power system).
Reclamation of the mining sites
Following the drop in uranium prices in the 1990s, COMUF ceased operations in June 1999 after the last economically recoverable deposits were depleted.
As early as 1997, AREVA examined a program for site reclamation based on a study to optimize and demonstrate radiological protection. This initiative was carried out in compliance with applicable international regulations(study funded under the European SYSMIN project).
The reclamation and site closure work begun in 1999 at COMUF-operated sites, represented an investment of close to 12,5 million euros. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) validated the quality of the work in 2006, after three audits in Gabon.
The facilities were dismantled and rehabilitation work was carried out in strict compliance with applicable international regulations to ensure long-term public health and safety around the mining area. In particular, work focused on:
- dismantling of the ore extraction and processing facilities,
- securing of former industrial sites and replanting vegetation,
- reclamation of the mill tailings disposal sites.
The objective was to durably guarantee public health and safety in the mining area. Since 2006, COMUF has been providing radiological and environmental surveillance of the rehabilitated Mounana site.Regular checks have been made on the air, water, vegetation and food chain, together with maintenance and reclamation work.
The Gabonese Nuclear Safety and Security Agency (AGSSN) monitors the surveillance plan.
Maintaining economic activity
Aware of the socio-economic difficulties facing the town of Mounana and its environs, COMUF mobilized in favor of the local communities.
Since 2004, COMUF has particularly supported the building of infrastructures and the development of agriculture, several years after the end of its industrial operations. The focus has been on projects considered to be sustainable and economically viable.
Since 2006, AREVA Gabon, the company in charge of exploration, has been carrying out exploration work on the the Francevillian mining concession held by the CEA and leased to COMUF.
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