Kazakhstan eyes top spot in uranium output

23 July 2008

Kazakhstan aims to overtake Canada and Australia to become the world's leading uranium supplier next year. The country is also getting involved in all stages of the front-end of the nuclear fuel cycle.

Kazakhstan's state-owned nuclear energy company, KazAtomProm, said that its uranium output should increase from more than 9000 tonnes in 2008 to some 12,826 tonnes in 2009. The company's strategic marketing department estimates that Canada's uranium production in 2009 will be about 11,100 tonnes, while Australia will produce some 9430 tonnes.

According to figures from the World Nuclear Association (WNA), Kazakhstan produced some 6637 tonnes of uranium in 2007, accounting for 16% of total world production of 41,279 tonnes. It was the third largest uranium producer after Canada (9476 tonnes, 23%) and Australia (8611 tonnes, 21%).

KazAtomProm has a strategic program to increase its uranium output to 15,000 tonnes per year by 2010. The company has several uranium production projects that have either just began operating or about to start up. So far in 2008, the West Mynkuduk (design capacity 1000 tonnes per year), the Khorasan-1 (3000 tonnes) and the Kaynarsky (300 tonnes) projects have all began operating, but have yet to reach their full capacities.

Meanwhile, the company's Irkol project (750 tonnes per year) and the Inkai project (2000 tonnes) are both scheduled to open in August. The South Inkai project, which is currently in pilot production, is expected to enter commercial production of 2000 tonnes per year in 2009.

In addition, KazAtomProm is set to launch two further uranium projects next year: the Khorasan-2 project with a design capacity of 2000 tonnes per year and the Semizbay project with a capacity of 500 tonnes per year.


More than mining

Kazakhstan wants to use its uranium reserves to participate in all stages of the front-end of the nuclear fuel cycle - the stages from mining uranium, through its chemical preparation and enrichment to the manufacture of fuel ready for use in a reactor.

In early June, KazAtomProm and Canada's Cameco 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%. 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 in 2009.

Also last month, KazAtomProm signed a strategic agreement in the front end of the nuclear fuel cycle with France's state-owned Areva. Under the terms of the agreement, Katco - a 51%-49% joint venture between Areva and KazAtomProm - should produce 4000 tonnes of uranium per year until 2039, sales of which will be made entirely by Areva. Areva will also provide engineering assistance to construct fuel fabrication lines with an annual capacity of 1200 tonnes in KazAtomProm's metallurgy plant in Ulba.

Kazakhstan is also participating in a joint uranium enrichment plant in Russia. The plant will be constructed in Angarsk and is expected to begin operating in 2011.

In August 2007, KazAtomProm purchased a 10% stake in Toshiba's Westinghouse Electric, which supplies nuclear power reactors. During a visit last month by Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev to Japan, an agreement for further cooperation in nuclear energy was signed between KazAtomProm and Toshiba.