December 15, 2011

Kazakhstan and Russian Uranium Plans and Kudankulam delayed by protests

1. Asia Times online has a lengthy feature on Rosatom's (AtomRedMetZoloto) Uranium Holding Co, or ARMZ, plans to dominate worldwide uranium production. Rosatom is the Russian uranium company.

Russia treats its nuclear industry as a national resource, and it is aware that the uranium cupboard - at least as it pertains to HEU (highly enriched uranium) and other legacy stocks - will be bare in 10 to 15 years. As a matter of prudence, economics, and national security, it is making plans for the future.

The future includes an expected spike in uranium ore prices from US$55 to $70-$80 a pound as the price of commercially mined ore is no longer depressed by a steady stream of government-owned HEU downblends into the marketplace.

South Korea, India, and China will continue aggressive nuclear power construction programs.

Russia has the world's largest uranium refining capacity, inherited from the USSR's oversized weapons program. Its estimated refining capacity is four to five times that of the United States and almost half of the world's total.

Mongolia has a major uranium play at Dornod, a reserve discovered during the socialist era and exploited for a time by the USSR. It has reserves of at least 25,000 tons, and can support an extraction rate of 2,000 tons per year - an estimated cash flow of $300,000,000 per year, much of it probably profit.

Both Russia and China have designs on the uranium and other resources in Mongolia.

A decade ago, Russia was offering to close the fuel cycle, at least commercially, by promising to handle spent rods from the nuclear stations it supplied. The Duma passed a bill permitting imports of spent fuel in 2002. Minatom (the Russian state-run nuclear corporation) optimistically predicted that spent fuel imports could add up to 20,000 tons and $20 billion in profits over the next 20 years.

2. Kazakhstan plans to increase uranium production to 21,346 metric tons next year. Uranium output for this year is expected to be 19,900 tons.

3. Seeking Alpha MonAtom's Tsogtsaikhan Gombo believes Mongolia's uranium reserves are 80,000 tons, not 49,000.

Frontier Securities, a Mongolia brokerage, indicates that proven uranium reserves in Mongolia amount to roughly 70,000 tons and there is strong belief that they may rise up to 100,000/120,000 tons within the next 2 years. There is also high speculation as per the country's potential in uranium deposits with the IAEA's red book having indicated estimates of up to 1.39 million tons untested reserves, which if proven would constitute the largest reserves in the world. MonAtom is more conservative, capping such a number to 500,000 tons.

4. The day-long siege at the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KNPP) in Tirunelveli district on Saturday by around 1,500 villagers has been called off on the assurance that the workers and others inside the project campus would be vacated by Dec 15, said an activist.

The Kudankulm reactor (1000 MWe) is basically finished and should have started grid connection today, but has been delayed from completion by protests.

UPDATE - Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Friday, expressing confidence that the government can ease safety concerns that have prompted protests by local residents.

"We are confident that we will be able to persuade some of these people that their concerns are adequately taken care of, that our nuclear plants are safe and sound and there is nothing to worry about with regards to their safety," Singh said.

"I am therefore confident that in a couple of weeks we should be able to go ahead with operationalising Kudankulam, and thereafter, by a period of six months, Kudankulam 2."

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