World Economy

Desperate Uranium Miners See Hope

Areva’s Somair uranium mining facility in Arlit, Niger. Areva’s Somair uranium mining facility in Arlit, Niger.

The nuclear industry is gradually recovering from its post-Fukushima slump, but excess capacity keeps uranium prices at record lows, forcing mining companies to mothball mines, slice costs and cut debt as they struggle to survive.

In the wake of the March 2011 Fukushima disaster, Japan closed its nuclear reactors, which accounted for some 10% of the more than 400 reactors operating globally, Reuters reported.

Several other countries including Germany announced plans to exit nuclear, and in the past three years several nuclear reactors in the United States were closed as they could no longer compete with cheap shale gas.

Five years later, only three of Japan’s 42 reactors are back in operation but new reactors brought online in China and other countries have partly made up for the Japanese closures.

In the next few years, eight Westinghouse reactors are expected to open in the United States and China, four Areva reactors in Finland, France and China, and four Kepco-built reactors in United Arab Emirates.

The World Nuclear Association says it is feasible that global nuclear electricity production, at around 2,441 terawatt hours in 2015, may return to 2011 levels this year and to pre-Fukushima levels in two-three years. In 2010, the last full year before Fukushima, nuclear generation came to 2,630 TWh.

  More New Plants

Long-term perspectives have picked up too. China plans to build at least 60 nuclear plants in the coming decade, South Africa last month kicked off a major nuclear tender, and Thursday’s signature of the Hinkley Point contract between French utility EDF and the UK government opens the way for up to 12 new reactors in Britain.

As nuclear reactors need fuel, all this should be good news for uranium miners, but the radioactive metal last week hit a new decade low of $23.5 per pound.

Uranium, which before the 2008 financial crisis had briefly peaked around $140 per pound in June 2007, traded around $70 per pound just before the Fukushima disaster and has been on a downward trend ever since.

“It has never been a worse time for uranium miners, although globally the nuclear industry does well,” Alexander Molyneux, CEO of Australian uranium miner Paladin Energy told Reuters in an interview.


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