Canada's Cameco Corporation and Kazatomprom of Kazakhstan have announced the formation of a new joint-owned company, Ulba Conversion LLP, to move forward with development work on a 12,000 tonne uranium hexafluoride conversion facility in Kazakhstan.
The new company will be 51% owned by Kazatomprom, with Cameco holding 49%. Azamat Belyalov, currently director general of uranium mining company JV Akbastau, will be Ulba Conversion’s director general.
The announcement follows on from a memorandum of understanding signed by the two companies in May 2007. The project will now move to the first stage of a feasibility study funded by the partners based on their participating interest, and expected to be completed within a year. According to Cameco, it will provide the technology and potentially hold an interest of up to 49% in the plant, to be built at the Ulba Metallurgical Plant in Ust-Kamenogorsk.
Conversion to gaseous uranium hexafluoride (UF6) is an essential step before uranium enrichment. Cameco operates a 12,400 tonnes UF6 per year conversion facility at Port Hope in Canada, where it also produces uranium dioxide (UO2) used to manufacture natural uranium fuel for Candu reactors. It claims to be the world's largest supplier of conversion services through its own plant and a long-term toll processing agreement with Springfields Ltd's conversion plant in the UK.
Inkai expansion plans advancing
At the same time as announcing the conversion venture, Cameco noted that the two companies' plans to double future production from their co-owned Inkai uranium project are making progress. The in-situ recovery mine and mill is due to start up in 2008, reaching full capacity of 2360 tonnes U3O8 (2000 tU) in 2010. A project feasibility study on raising total annual production to 4720 tonnes U3O8 (4000 tU) over an as yet unconfirmed timeframe has now been completed and is being reviewed by the two companies. The Inkai project has total reserves of 51,700 tonnes U3O8 (43,850 tU). Kazatomprom is owned by the Kazakh government, and any binding agreements will require various government approvals before they can be implemented.