Uranium imports in marked decline

Updated: 2011-08-03 07:49

By Liu Yiyu (China Daily)

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Energy industry waiting for new plan following Japan nuclear crisis

Beijing - Imports of uranium slowed during the first half of this year, amid industry uncertainty caused by Japan's Fukushima nuclear crisis.

China imported 5,356 tons of uranium in the first six months of 2011, a 13 percent year-on-year drop, according to figures released by the General Administration of Customs.

In the corresponding period last year, China imported 6,065 tons of the nuclear fuel, 2.5 times the amount for the previous year.

In 2010, China tripled its uranium imports from 2009 levels to 17,136 tons.

The slowdown suggests that uranium importers, including China National Nuclear Corp and China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group (CGNPG), are still uncertain about the industry's prospects before the central government issues the revised nuclear development plan, Xu Ying, industry analyst at Donghai Securities, said.

China suspended approvals for new nuclear projects following the Fukushima accident in March and launched a six-month long national nuclear facility safety check in April.

The government will resume project approvals after a nuclear power safety plan is released.

Another reason for the slowdown may be that uranium suppliers are unwilling to sell at lower prices, Xiao Xinjian, industry expert at the Energy Research Institute of the National Development and Reform Commission, said.

In 2007, the spot price for uranium reached a record high of $136 a pound. In February of this year it was at $70 a pound but plunged to $49 in March following the Fukushima accident.

It stood at $51.75 a pound at the end of July.

"The uranium price is recovering slowly after the nuclear crisis, indicating that China, one of the most important buyers, is not buying much at this low point," Xu said.

Increasing demand for new nuclear power reactors, especially from China, the United States, Russia, Ukraine and India, will see the uranium market rebound, according to Australia-based Resource Capital Research.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), China's uranium consumption will reach 4,402 tons in 2011 while its production capacity stood at 827 tons in 2010.

China has 14 nuclear reactors in operation, 26 under construction and 52 in the planning stage as of July, according to the IEA.

China will put two reactors into operation this year, the energy institute's Xiao said.

Last month, a Sichuan-based private company - Hanlong Mining Investment - made a $145 million bid for Australia's Bannerman Resources which has uranium projects in Namibia, indicating that China's appetite for the resource has not been diminished by the Japan crisis.

This came two months after State-owned CGNPG was forced to withdraw an offer for UK-listed Kalahari Minerals after UK regulators blocked it from cutting its bid following the Fukushima disaster.

The uranium subsidiary of CGNPG said in May that it is developing two large mines in Guangdong province and the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, which will bring an additional 1,000 tons annual production capacity to the country by 2013.

China will account for 20 percent of the world's uranium demand by 2020, Resource Capital Research said.

China Daily

(China Daily 08/03/2011 page1)