Uranium: the race is on…


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

Desperately seeking uranium

By Article 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 world¹s 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 Areva¹s 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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