Uranium supply won't be constraint to nuclear growth – Cameco chief

29th September 2010 By: Liezel Hill

TORONTO (miningweekly.com) – There are enough known uranium resources in the world that the supply of the metal will not be a constraint to the continued growth of the nuclear energy industry, Cameco Corporation CEO Jerry Grandey said in Toronto on Tuesday.

Speaking at a bilateral mining forum hosted by the Canada India Foundation, Grandey also said that Cameco is still looking to sign uranium supply contract with Indian customers, but commented that the longer time taken by Canada to sign a nuclear cooperation agreement (NCA) with India meant that competitors from other countries already had their feet in the door.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Indian leader Manmohan Singh signed a civil NCA in June, opening the way for the export of nuclear technology, equipment and uranium to the fast-growing Asian nation.

Canada was the eighth nation to sign such a deal with India since 2008, when the Nuclear Suppliers Group lifted a 34-year ban on nuclear cooperation with India.

“But frankly, it's a very competitive environment and Canada was a little bit slow in getting to a nuclear cooperation agreement,” Grandey commented.

“And we found that even though we were quite instrumental in bringing this NCA to fruition, that our competitors in France and Russia and Kazakhstan were well ahead of Canada in our ability to do nuclear trade.”

Grandey said he is still hopeful that Cameco and Canada will engage in positive bilateral trade on uranium supply to India, which he sees as “step one”.

“But, more importantly, we know that the Indian nuclear community wants to broaden its supply base to many other countries,” he added.

There are still excessive levels of red tape bureaucracy that need to be dealt with in India to get potential partnerships and joint ventures moving though, Grandey commented.

NO SHORTAGE

Although there are a growing number of new nuclear plants under construction in China, India, Korea and Japan, as well as a handful in North America and Europe, Grandey said that the world's uranium resources will be sufficient to continue to meet demand.

There are 438 plants operating today, consuming about 180-million pounds of uranium a year.

Not all of this comes from new mine production, as a portion of the world's uranium is supplied from uranium inventories, which are being steadily depleted.

The uranium mining industry is producing about 140-million pounds a year at the moment.

Based on current projections, consumption could increase to around 250-million to 300-million pounds a year, Grandey said.

“So the industry itself, in response to uranium price signals, has got to work quite hard to ensure that we meet the demand of the 180-million pounds a year, and growth year-on-year going forward."

However, while some critics point to the production shortfall and say that the nuclear industry is just not sustainable, “the reality is that uranium is quite an abundant element”, he added.

Exploration ground to a halt because of oversupply left over from the sixties and seventies, which means that no-one has been looking seriously for uranium until about five years ago.

However, since exploration started up again, a number of additional deposits have been discovered, and studies show the world has at least 160 years' worth of uranium supply, Grandey said.

“In my view, uranium is not going to be a constraint, it's just a question of getting deposits that have been identified through the pipeline of permitting and licensing.”

Cameco, which expects to produce 21,5-million pounds of uranium this year has plans to double the output from its existing operations to 40-million pounds a year by 2018, in anticipation of rising demand for the nuclear fuel.