PARIS, Jan 13 (Reuters) - French nuclear company Areva has agreed to pay Niger 35 million euros ($46.71 million) in compensation for delays to its Imouraren uranium mining project in the north of the desert country, a presidency official said on Sunday.
The mine is meant to more than double Niger's uranium output, making it the world's second-largest exporter of the nuclear fuel, but its start-up was delayed from 2012 after seven Areva workers were kidnapped three years ago.
Areva had already pushed the mine's opening back to 2013 but Massaoudou Hassoumi, chief of staff to President Mamadou Issoufou, said the company had confirmed another delay.
'This money is to compensate a year-long delay which will push production at the mine back to 2014 or 2015,' he told a news conference, saying the company's 'gift' to Niger would be laid out in a special protocol between Areva and the government.
Areva will pay the government 16 million euros in 2013, 10 million in 2014 and the remaining 9 million in 2015, Hassoumi said.
'All our mining agreements with Areva will be renegotiated in 2013 and there will also be political negotiations with France on the issue of uranium,' Massaoudou said.
Company and government sources said the head of Areva-Niger, Imad Toumi, had resigned.
Imouraren will produce 5,000 tonnes of uranium a year but requires investment of 1.2 billion euros to enter production.
Areva has been mining uranium in Niger for around four decades and is the country's biggest single investor with two producing uranium mines. Niger has long complained that it has failed to reap benefits from its uranium wealth.
Al Qaeda's north African wing, which operates in a broad swathe of the Sahara, claimed responsibility for the 2010 kidnappings of the Areva workers near the mining town of Arlit and later released three of the hostages. ($1 = 0.7493 euros)
(Reporting By Abdoulaye Massalatchi; writing by Daniel Flynn; Editing by Maureen Bavdek) Keywords: NIGER AREVA/
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