Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Kazakhstan: The unstoppable rise in Kazakh uranium production

Drums of Kazakh uranium
Credit: KazAtomProm

By Nirode Masson
Republished courtesy of
IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

LONDON (IDN) – The central Asian republic of Kazakhstan, which laid claim to being the world's top uranium producing country in 2009, surpassing both Canada's and Australia, is continuing to make giant strides.

The country, greater than Western Europe, has 15 percent of the world's uranium resources. In 2009, it contributed almost 28 percent of the world production in 2009.

It is neighboured clockwise from the north by Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and also borders on a significant part of the Caspian Sea. ´

The capital was moved in 1997 from Almaty, Kazakhstan's largest city, to Astana.

Kazakhstan has a major plant making nuclear fuel pellets and aims eventually to sell value-added fuel rather than just uranium. It aims to supply 30 percent of the world fuel fabrication market by 2015, according to World Nuclear News (WNN)..

The Kazakh national nuclear company KazAtomProm, which employs more than 25,000 workers, has forged major strategic links with Russia, Japan and China, as well as taking a significant share in the international nuclear company Westinghouse. Canadian and French companies are involved with uranium mining and other aspects of the fuel cycle.

Kazakhstan has reported a 42 percent increase in uranium production during the first half of 2010 compared with the same period the previous year. Total uranium output for the whole of 2010 is set to reach 18,222 tonnes, a 30 percent increase on 2009.

KazAtomProm reported that total revenues for the first six months of 2010 were $717.5 million, up 58 percent from the same period in 2009. The almost two-fold increase in income, the company said, was a result of increased volumes of uranium sales. Net profits, the company said, increased 64 percent to $131.8 million.

During the first half of 2010, two facilities were brought online, according to KazAtomProm. The industrial complex and wellfield at the Inkai joint venture (40 percent KazAtomProm and 60 percent Canadian Cameco) was started up, in addition to the first phase of the expanded pilot in-situ leach (ISL) production facility at the Budenovskoye 2 mine operated by the Karatau joint venture.

Also during the six-month period, KazAtomProm reached an agreement with Russian state nuclear energy company Rosatom on the alternative development of the International Enrichment Centre project. That agreement provides for KazAtomProm to participate in the capital of the Urals Electrochemical Plant in Novouralsk.

In addition, according to WNN, Japan's Nuclear Fuel industries (NFI) certified the use of uranium dioxide (UO2) powders produced by the Ulba Metallurgical Plant (UMP), part of the KazAtomProm group, for use in Japanese nuclear power reactors. This certification, the company said, will allow for UMP to proceed supplying UO2 powders to Japan.

In early June 2010, KazAtomProm signed an agreement with Toshiba of Japan to establish a joint venture for research, exploration, production and sales of rare and rare earth metal products and materials. The new joint venture is expected to be formed during the second half of 2010. Earlier, in March, the Summit Atom Rare Earth Company (Sareco) -- a joint venture between KazAtomProm and Japan's Sumitomo -- was founded for the development of rare and rare earth metals.

In January 2010 KazAtomProm reported that by December 21 its Mining Company subsidiary had reached its annual target of producing 13,500 tonnes of uranium. It added that at least a further 400 tonnes would be produced by the end of the year. The total output of some 13,900 tonnes represents a 63 percent increase from the 8521 tonnes it produced in 2008, the company said.

Such a growth in output, KazAtomProm said, made the company the leading producer in 2009. Ux Consulting had forecast that Canada, previously the world's biggest uranium producer, would produce just less than 10,000 tonnes in 2009, while Australia would produce almost 8000 tonnes.


There are currently 21 operating uranium mines in Kazakhstan producing uranium through the in-situ leach method. KazAtomProm said the boost in production in 2009 was achieved by bringing new mines into operation and expanding existing production capacities. The Khorassan 1 mine was commissioned in April 2009.

Nurlan Ryspanov, vice president of KazAtomProm, said: "Notwithstanding significant technological problems and difficulties in sulfuric acid supply to the industry in 2008 -- early 2009, concerted efforts of KazAtomProm, KazZinc and Kazakhmys let us overcome the critical point and hit the target."

Ryspanov said: "As far as the nuclear industry develops and supply from secondary sources diminishes, we are expecting a shortage of natural uranium in the world from 2016." He added, "To cover such anticipated deficit, Kazakhstan is planning to increase its uranium production to 18,000 tonnes by 2010. At that, Kazakhstan will be the top uranium producer in the world in the period of peak demand for uranium."

KazAtomProm said that it will start implementing new hi-tech projects in 2010, in particular "science-intensive and technology-intensive operations based on rare and rare-earth metals and elaboration of alternative energy installations" in Kazakhstan. In addition, the company plans to invest over $20 million during 2010 in social projects to develop uranium mining regions and adjacent areas.

KazAtomProm is also implementing a strategy to become a vertically-integrated company involved in all stages of the nuclear fuel cycle. This strategy, the company said, is based on "agreements reached with key players in the nuclear market." In April, KazAtomProm signed a memorandum with China Guangdong Nuclear Power Company (CGNPC) to partner for nuclear power plant construction.

In January 2009 Kazatomprom signed an agreement with India's Nuclear Power Corporation (NPCIL) to supply 2100 tonnes of uranium to India and undertake a feasibility study on building Indian PHWR reactors in Kazakhstan.

NPCIL said that it represented "a mutual commitment to begin thorough discussions on long-term strategic relationship." Under this agreement, 300 tonnes of natural uranium will be supplied by Kazatomprom in the 2010-11 year.

In April 2010 Kazakhstan signed a nuclear cooperation agreement with South Korea, paving the way for export of Korean SMART 100 MWe nuclear reactors and for joint projects to mine and export Kazakh uranium.

In addition Kazakhstan has signed intergovernmental agreements on nuclear energy cooperation with the USA and European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom), which acts in several areas connected with atomic energy, including research, the drawing-up of safety standards, and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

One of the fundamental objectives of the Euratom Treaty is to ensure that all users in the EU enjoy a regular and equitable supply of ores and nuclear fuels. (IDN-InDepthNews/10.08.2010)

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