Wednesday, September 14, 2005

China seeks new supplies of uranium

China seeks new supplies of uranium

China seeks new supplies of uranium

SEP. 14 5:36 A.M. ET As China moves to line up uranium supplies to feed its planned massive nuclear power expansion, it's facing surprisingly little resistance and sparking a lot of interest from countries with deposits of the mineral.

In the next 15 years, China plans to build as many as 40 nuclear plants to supplement the nine it has now.

The move is part of Beijing's strategy to become less dependent on crude oil and develop a wider range of energy sources -- a plan that could have China bumping up against the strategic interests of the United States and its own neighbors.

China's search for oil and gas in nearby waters, and as far afield as North and South America, has already provoked political tension.
But Australia, Canada, and Kazakhstan -- which hold much of the world's readily extracted low cost uranium -- appear keen to sell uranium to China.

"China will be the main source of rising demand for the next 10 to 15 years. U.S demand is less certain. China is already happening," said Steve Kidd, director of strategy and research at the World Nuclear Association, a not-for-profit nuclear power advocacy group.

The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush has strongly supported the use of nuclear energy in the U.S., but it still needs to convince private utility companies to make the big investments needed to expand the sector.

China's communist-led government can execute its own long-term nuclear energy plans with little resistance, said Kidd.

China's known uranium reserves stand at 70,000 metric tons (77,000 tons). Now it consumes 1,500 metric tons (1,650 tons) a year. By 2020, this could soar five-fold.

Domestic uranium production now provides about half of China's annual needs, according to data from the World Nuclear Association.

China National Nuclear Corp., a state-owned firm responsible for all aspects of China's civilian and military nuclear programs, has been successfully shoring up the country's future uranium supplies.

In November, signed a long-term uranium production and processing agreement with KazAtomProm, Kazakhstan's national atomic company, which already has been supplying China with uranium.

Kazahkstan, which shares China's northwest border, sits on 17 percent of the world's uranium reserves.

Canada, which built two reactors for China in the 1990s, is a potential source as well.

Last week, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. and CNNC agreed to cooperate on the further development of the Canadian-designed CANDU reactor.

The agreement doesn't include uranium sales by Canada, which has 14 percent of the world's uranium reserves. But it certainly fosters closer nuclear cooperation.

The size of the China market has also spurred interest in Australia, which has strict rules requiring safeguards that exported ore won't be used for weapons.

Australia sits on an estimated 30 percent of the world's uranium reserves and already is a heavy resources exporter to China.

Australia announced last month that the two trading partners had formally begun negotiations on an agreement that would ensure Australian uranium sold to China would only be used for energy generation.


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