MALAWI IN FOCUS
Estimates from 2011 suggest that Malawi could have up to 12 uranium mines in the future. The same year, Malawi issued 30 exploration permits to foreign companies from Australia, South Africa, China and the United Kingdom to explore the country’s uranium reserves. In 2009, production began at Malawi’s first uranium mine, Kayelekera, located 575 km north of the capital city, Lilongwe. Kayelekera has measured and indicated resources of 15,000 tU. Production ramped up to 1,101 tU by 2012, catapulting Malawi from a non-producer to the world’s tenth largest producer. The Kayelekera mine however had been operating at a loss and in February 2014, Australia’s Paladin Energy announced that it would suspend operations at the mine, placing it on care and maintenance until the price of uranium recovers. The financial situation of this mid-sized, global company however struggled for years and in August 2017, Paladin Energy filed for bankruptcy.
TANZANIA IN FOCUS
Several companies are exploring for uranium in Tanzania. The Tanzanian Government issued its first uranium mining license in April 2013 to Mantra Tanzania, a subsidiary of Australia’s Mantra Resources, which Russian state-owned company Atomredmetzoloto (ARMZ) bought in 2010. Mantra planned to start extracting uranium in the Mkuju River project during 2013, but the project has been delayed due to the low price of uranium. An agreement with Uranium One (a Canadian-based company which is wholly owned by ARMZ) has given Uranium One operational control of the project.
GREENLAND IN FOCUS
Until recently, Greenland had a decades-long practice of not allowing the exploration and extraction of uranium. On 24 October 2013 the Greenland parliament, Inatsisartut, lifted the so-called ‘zero tolerance policy’ on mining radioactive elements, thereby eliminating an immediate hurdle to mining rare earths and other minerals that coexist with significant concentrations of uranium and thorium. Commercial interest is in the Kvanefjeld deposit which has a total identified conventional resource inventory of 102,820 tU.
CHINA IN FOCUS
In 2000, China was operating three power reactors. As of September 2017, it had 37 reactors on the grid, with another 20 under construction, increasing nuclear capacity by 70% to at least 58 gigawatts of electricity by 2020-2021. Nuclear capacity is projected to increase to between 120-150 GWe by 2030 and upwards to 400 GWe by 2050. To fuel its growing reactor population, annual requirements for uranium will jump from about 7,000 tonnes in 2017 to 10-15,000 tonnes in 2020 and then doubling, even tripling, as China approaches its target of 20% of primary energy consumption to be powered by non-fossil fuels by 2030. China is responding by buying more uranium on the international market and investing heavily in overseas uranium properties.
INDIA IN FOCUS
Energy is central to India’s rising economic potential. As of 1 September 2017, there were 22 operating nuclear reactors in India with a capacity of 6,780 MWe, generating approximately three per cent of the country’s electricity. The annual uranium requirement for the fleet is approximately 1,400 tU per year. Five more reactors are under construction and on 18 May 2017, the government announced plans to construct ten pressurized heavy water reactors (an extra 7,000 MWe). These homegrown reactors will be built in fleet mode under the ambitious “Make in India” initiative. If all goes according to plan, India’s annual uranium needs will more than double (but not quite triple) to 3,600 tU.
RUSSIA IN FOCUS
As of 1 September 2017, Russia had 35 operating reactors at ten nuclear power plants with an installed generation capacity of 26.9 GW. Seven power reactors are currently under construction with another 26 planned, doubling Russia’s nuclear generation to 60 GW by 2035. This will lead to a corresponding increase in Russia’s annual demand to feed its domestic fleet from around 5,800 tU in 2017 to upwards of 10,000 tU in 2035.
Russia’s demand for uranium however is not only limited to its domestic energy production. Russia is one of the world’s leading nuclear exporters, delivering reactors on a turnkey basis, including the supply of all fuel and repatriation of used fuel for the lifetime of the plant. In 2014, exports of nuclear fuel required another 5,000 tU plus another 10,000 tU for exports of uranium products and services (such as enrichment and fuel fabrication). Both figures will grow as Russia implements its ambitious program to build new power reactors abroad. In December 2015, Rosatom stated it had orders for 34 nuclear power reactors in 13 countries. If targets are achieved, Russia’s annual demand for uranium will rise to 40,000 tU by 2035.
AFRICA IN FOCUS
Increasingly, uranium in Africa is attracting interest from emerging economies, particularly from India and China. Chinese investments in Africa are facilitated through the China-Africa Development Fund (CAD Fund), a large private equity fund. China Uranium Corporation, a subsidiary of the state-owned enterprise China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC), has signed an agreement with the CAD Fund to jointly develop uranium resources in Africa. In Niger, 37.2 percent of Société des mines d’Azelik (Somina), the operating company of Azelik mine, is owned by China Nuclear International Uranium Corporation (Sino-Uranium), another subsidiary of CNNC, and 24.8 percent is owned by another Chinese company, ZXJOY Invest Corporation. The Chinese state-owned company China Guangdong Nuclear Power Company (CGNPC) co-owns the Husab uranium mine in Namibia.
From a high of US$135 per pound of U3O8 in 2007, the spot price for uranium dropped to US$30 per pound of U3O8 in 2014, and dropped even further to US$20 per pound of U3O8 in August 2017. Not surprisingly, several mining projects were put on hold both in traditional producer nations such as Canada and Australia and in newer ones, such as Malawi. At the same time, some lower cost producers are expanding such as Cigar Lake in Canada and the Husab Project in Namibia. The oversupply could last at least another seven years according to one estimate. Low prices led to shutting down production at a mine in Malawi in February 2014 after less than a half dozen years in operation.
China’s consumption levels suggest it is on track to replace the United States as the world’s largest uranium consumer, although the exact date when that will happen is unclear. China’s expansion of nuclear energy also means expansion of its uranium mining interests into Africa, opening up competition in countries that had previously been monopolized.