Desperately seeking uranium

Desperately seeking uranium :: SANDERS RESEARCH ASSOCIATES LTD.

  by Michael Petek – Die Welt

Against the background of the increasing importance of nuclear energy worldwide, French nuclear company Areva is short of raw materials. Experts believe this could presage a shortage of uranium.

Fears were triggered by the flooding of an uranium mine in Canada and political tensions in Niger. The price per pound of uranium has tripled in the space of a year to US$138 (101 Euros). Pessimistic forecasters predict that uranium could become scarce in 2040 at the latest, or perhaps as early as in the coming decade. However, experts expect supply problems over a much longer terms.

The state-owned company Areva, a world market leader in the nuclear industry, is in large measure dependent on uranium mines outside France. Reserves in the southern French département of Hérault are almost completely exhausted, producing in the past year only five tons of uranium. Areva produced 5,272 tonnes of uranium in 2005, but plans to increase production to 12,000 tonnes a year by 2012. Half of current production is from Canadian mines, 43 from Niger and the rest from Kazakhstan.

Areva has been having increasing problems with Niger, the world’s third-largest producer of uranium. Until now the French nuclear giant enjoyed a monopoly position in the uranium trade, but when the local head of Areva, Dominique Pin, was deported Niger put pressure on the company to renegotiate contracts.

Furthermore the price of uranium per pound for this year was raised retrospectively by half to US$40. This is still low in comparison to the world market price, but it could rise still further as the government of Niger wants to renegotiate the price for 2008.

Areva therefore has to look hard for new uranium deposits to secure its supply on a broader base. As a first step Areva took, in July, a 93 per cent share in Canadian uranium mining company Uramin for US$2.5 billion (1.8 billion Euros). Uramin, founded only two years ago, runs operations in South Africa, Namibia and the Central African Republic and intends to produce 7,000 tonnes of uranium per year from 2012.

In another step Areva intends to invest heavily in research into new uranium reserves, employing 100 new geologists. Areva President Anne Lauvergeon plans to treble spending on these projects, and according to media reports is paying particular attention to Gabon which is thought to have more deposits of uranium.

However, the French company is not the only one with an interest in the African nation. Canadian company Cameco is said to have sent a delegation to Gabon.

Uranium supply is not Areva’s only cause for concern. On Friday Framatome, which is merged its nuclear activities with Siemens, had to announce further delays in the construction of the EPR pressurised water reactor in Finland, which was originally expected to enter service in 2009 before being delayed until the end of 2010. It will not now enter service until 2011.

[Published Wednesday 15th August 2007, link]

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