The prospect of eased restrictions on European investment in Canada's uranium industry has been given a cautious welcome by Canadian uranium company Cameco.
The relaxed restrictions are part of the recently agreed Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the European Union (EU).
A technical summary released by the Canadian government states that rules on uranium investment will be "less restrictive," with EU companies exempt from the requirement of first finding a Canadian partner. Canada's Non-Resident Ownership Policy (NROP) for uranium projects, which has been in place since 1987, caps foreign ownership of uranium mines at 49%.
Cameco spokesman Rob Gereghty told World Nuclear News, "We support the liberalisation of these ownership rules provided that the countries seeking greater access here permit reciprocal access for Canadian companies to explore and mine uranium in their jurisdictions."
He noted that "while Europe lacks the uranium resources that Canada possesses," European customers currently make up more than 20% of Cameco's sales portfolio.
"Efforts like CETA which improve the commercial relationship between Canada and its important trading partners are beneficial to companies like ours that are reliant on trade between these markets, and offer an opportunity to build on the strong presence we already enjoy in many European countries," he said.
According to the Canadian Nuclear Association (CNA), in 2012, more than 80% of Canada's exports of uranium and other radioactive elements and isotopes went to the EU, with 56% going to the UK, 19% to the Netherlands, 4% to Germany and 1.5% to France.
The CNA said that 90% of Canada's uranium production was exported in both 2011 and 2012. Production fell 1.6% to 10,612 tonnes in 2012. Canada is the world's second largest producer of uranium with about 16% of the global market.
French nuclear energy giant Areva is a key player in Canada's uranium industry. It is the majority owner and operator of the McClean Lake operation and the decommissioned Cluff Lake operation, both in northern Saskatchewan. It also has minority stakes in the McArthur River, Key Lake and Cigar Lake projects, operated by Cameco, all also in Saskatchewan. According to the company, projects under development include the Kiggavik Project in Nunavut as well as the Midwest and Shea Creek projects in northern Saskatchewan.
An Areva spokesperson said that the company views the proposed changes as "a positive development. Free trade agreements generally have a positive economic impact, and we expect this one will benefit the uranium sector in Canada."
Anglo-Australian mining corporation Rio Tinto completed the acquisition of Hathor Exploration, a junior Canadian uranium exploration company with assets in the Athabasca Basin region of Saskatchewan, in January 2012. The new entity was renamed Rio Tinto Canada Uranium. Its assets give Rio Tinto access to the Roughrider Project deposit, and further exploration tenements in Saskatchewan, according to the company.
A Rio Tinto spokesperson said, "Rio Tinto welcomes CETA and the easing of Canadian restrictions on EU investment in the uranium mining sector."
By Jonathan Dyson
for World Nuclear News