Kazatomprom chief warns against US uranium tariffs

18 June 2019

Kazatomprom CEO Galymzhan Pirmatov says he is "concerned" that more US reactors would be forced to close if the Trump administration were to introduce tariffs and force utilities to buy at least one-quarter of their uranium from domestic miners, the Financial Times reported yesterday.

Kazatomprom chairman and CEO Galymzhan Pirmatov (Image: Kazatomprom)

The US Department of Commerce (DOC) on 15 April submitted to the White House the results of an investigation into the effects of uranium imports on US national security. The US President now has until the middle of July to decide whether to act on the DOC's findings and recommendations, which have not been made public.

"US utilities running nuclear power plants are already facing challenges competing against cheap natural gas. Some are shutting down prematurely, before the end of their licence," Pirmatov said, during an interview with the British newspaper. "With tariffs and quotas you are adding more cost to an already difficult situation." Eleven of the USA’s nuclear reactors are set to close between September and 2025, a timetable that could be accelerated if the White House imposes tough measures on imports of uranium, he added.

"We continue to believe in the long term fundamentals of uranium," Pirmatov said. "A harsh outcome could further delay the normalisation of supply, demand and price."

He rejected suggestions that Kazatomprom, which floated in London and Astana in November, enjoyed extraordinary support from the state through measures such as consumer subsidies. Kazakhstan’s sovereign wealth Samruk-Kazyna remains the company’s biggest shareholder with an 85% stake, the FT noted.

Pirmatov told the newspaper: "We are not subsidised by the state. We never have been. We are a commercially driven organisation. We just completed our IPO and a lot of US funds are our shareholders. I don't think they would have wanted to invest in someone who is subsidised by the state."

He added: "In our meeting with US government officials we said just listen to what the US nuclear industry is telling you. We don't want anything for either Kazatomprom or Kazakhstan. Make your decision on what the US nuclear industry is telling you."

According to the US Energy Information Administration, 7% of the 43 million pounds U3O8 (16,540 tU) purchased for use in US nuclear power plants in 2017 - the most recent year for which data is currently available - was of US origin. US uranium production in 2018 was 564 tU according to World Nuclear Association, and is currently at its lowest since 2004. A 25% domestic uranium quota would therefore necessitate a major increase in production.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News