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World’s top uranium miner sees clients switching from Russia

11th April 2023

By: Bloomberg

  

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Kazakhstan’s state-owned uranium miner is preparing reserves for production as demand increases, including from Eastern European power producers looking to cut their reliance on Russia.

Some nuclear plants in Eastern Europe, which previously sourced enriched uranium from Russia, are seeking contracts from 2025, Kazatomprom CEO Yerzhan Mukanov said. Geopolitical uncertainties are reshaping flows of the nuclear fuel, prompting some power producers to build inventories, he said.

“We are preparing our reserves for production, so we will be able to respond to market requests,” Mukanov said in an interview in Astana.

The US is among the countries seeking to cut their dependence on enriched uranium from Russia, the world’s biggest supplier of nuclear fuel. So far, that hasn’t been enough to prevent Russia’s nuclear exports from surging since the invasion of Ukraine, boosting the Kremlin’s revenue and cementing its influence over a new generation of global buyers.

Demand for uranium is expected to grow by about a third through 2030, the World Nuclear Association said last year, citing a projected 16% increase in reactor capacity. Kazakhstan, which produces more than 40% of the world’s uranium, plans to keep output steady at about 22 000 tons this year.

“We forecast an increase in uranium demand, but we are not interested in explosive growth of prices,” Mukanov said.

Uranium mining is at the start of the nuclear fuel cycle. The metal is processed into yellowcake, converted into a gas and then enriched to separate the uranium-235 isotope. That sustains the chain reaction necessary to produce energy.

Kazatomprom plans to open a third export route this year, shipping uranium via one of China’s ports, the CEO said. The miner currently ships the atomic fuel through Russia and across the Caspian Sea to the Black Sea.

There is growing demand from China, which is seeking uranium to load planned new nuclear power plants and to increase its own stockpiles, Mukanov said. China’s goal is to have “uninterrupted long-term supplies,” he said.

Edited by Bloomberg

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