Kazakhstan continues front-end push

03 February 2012

Kazakhstan has posted another year of record uranium production as it furthers its diversification into value-added nuclear fuel products.  

Having already established itself as the leading national producer of uranium, Kazakhstan increased the output of its mines by 9% in 2011 to reach 19,450 tonnes of uranium - about 35% of global supply and more than double what the next biggest country, Canada, produced in 2010.

"Strategic objectives of KazAtomProm are focused on maintaining the leading position at the world uranium market."

KazAtomProm statement

Production started last year at the second mine of the Semizbai deposit, adding 200 tonnes of uranium per year to Kazakh figures. Uranium solution processing capacity at Budyonovskoye 2 increased to 3000 tonnes of uranium per year, handing output from two other mines. Further gains will come next year from Budyonovskoye 3, where construction of new mining facilities have been started as has construction of administration buildings and living quarters at Kharassan 2. Next year the country should have domestic supply for all the sulphuric acid it needs for leaching uranium from its shallow deposits.

Most of Kazakhstan's mines are joint ventures between state nuclear company KazAtomProm and overseas mining enterprises like Areva, ARMZ, Cameco and Uranium One as well as Chinese interests and Japanese consortia. From the total haul from 17 mines, KazAtomProm laid claim to 11,079 tonnes of uranium. Of this, 10,399 tonnes was shipped to long-term customers, it said.

Fuel speed ahead

Aside from producing uranium, KazAtomProm has strategic goals elsewhere in the front-end of the nuclear fuel cycle, which spans from the basic sourcing of uranium to the loading of manufactured nuclear fuel assemblies into a reactor. With Tenex it is looking at the joint establishment of a uranium enrichment plant at Angarsk in Russia; With Areva it is working towards a 400 tonne per year fuel fabrication line at Ulba and the possible provision of integrated front-end products. Another deal with Cameco investigated setting up a uranium conversion plant, but this is on hold.

Japanese utilities, technology companies and fuel traders have spent much time in Kazakstan negotiating on technical support, supplies of rare eath metals, uranium and nuclear fuel products.

In September 2011 KazAtomProm signed a strategic cooperation deal with China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) to supply ceramic uranium-oxide fuel pellets. A pilot batch was made at the Ulba Metallurgical Plant in Ust-Kamenogorsk and delivered to CNNC. In December another deal was struck with China's other nuclear utility, China Guangdong Nuclear Power Corporation covering long-term supply of fuel pellets.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News