Niger has awarded a permit to GoviEx Niger Holdings Ltd., the Niger branch of GoviEx, to exploit uranium for investments worth $676 million at the 243-km Madaouela Project in the Agadez region, according to a government statement.

The landlocked West African country is a major uranium producer and the ore is central to France's nuclear energy program.

French state-owned nuclear company Areva also operates in the central Nigerien region. The relationship has been fraught; in April its workers launched a strike before a court declared it to be illegal.

Niger is one of the world's poorest countries and is ranked 188 of 188 in the U.N. Human Development Index.