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'Nuclear renaissance' sparks clamour for uranium

The rising demand for uranium is part of what's being dubbed the "nuclear renaissance," but it isn't only companies lining up to be part of the movement.

Decades after the Three Mile Island nuclear accident and the Chernobyl disaster, governments worldwide are loosening purse strings and dismantling roadblocks to allow for construction of nuclear plants and the uranium mines that feed them thanks to the increased appetite for clean energy.

This week, U.S. President Barack Obama proposed billions more in spending for nuclear power plant construction, while the Western Australia government appears poised to approve its first mine in three decades.

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State-owned companies in China and Russia are also competing to take over Canadian junior uranium explorer Khan Resources Inc., while Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska has received the first non-state company licence in Russia to mine uranium, according to a Russian newspaper report.

The jockeying comes alongside World Nuclear Association predictions that the number of nuclear reactors will double by 2030 worldwide, with China and India leading the way.

It has created a scenario where there won't be enough uranium production to meet demand over the next two decades, according to RBC Capital Markets analyst Adam Schatzker.

He forecasts uranium supply to grow by an average of 5 per cent each year until 2015, then fall as reserves are exhausted.

"We believe there is not enough uranium production, either current or planned, to satisfy reactor needs, initial core requirements and inventories for new reactors," Mr. Schatzker said in a report released yesterday.

Supply has dropped in the past three years, driven by problems with existing operations or delays in new mine production, such as repeat flooding at Cameco Corp.'s Cigar Lake mine development.

The company is working to restart development of the Cigar Lake mine by as early as this spring and analysts are pegging production to be delayed by at least a year to 2013.

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Mr. Schatzker said other problems at mines worldwide include permitting delays and government-related issues.

Raymond James analyst Bart Jaworski expects utility companies, especially in Asia, to start shoring up future fuel supply "given a shaky global supply outlook."

As an example, Mr. Jaworski cites China National Nuclear Corp.'s takeover offer for Toronto-based Khan Resources this week, which trumped a hostile bid from Russia's state-owned Atomredmetzoloto JSC.

"Uranium in particular stands to benefit from the nuclear renaissance, in our view, which appears to be kicking into high gear," he said.

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Top five producers

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About 60 per cent of the world's production of uranium from mines is from Canada, Australia and Kazakhstan. Canada produces the largest share of uranium from mines - 20.5 per cent of world supply.

Production from mines (tonnes in 2008)

Canada / 9,000

Kazakhstan / 8,521

Australia / 8,430

Namibia / 4,366

Russia (est) / 3,521

Source: World Nuclear Association

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Brenda Bouw is a freelance writer and editor based in Vancouver. She has more than 20 years of experience as a business reporter, including at The Globe and Mail, The Canadian Press, the Financial Post and was executive producer at BNN (formerly ROBTv). Brenda was also part of the Globe and Mail reporting team that won the 2010 National Newspaper Award for business journalism. More

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