GlobalData: Uranium production to recover by 3.1%
Global uranium production is expected to recover by 3.1% to reach 51.2kt in 2021, thanks to the return of production at Cigar Lake in Canada and other mines suspended during 2020. Output growth from Kazakhstan (+15.5%) and Russia (+5.2%) will contribute significantly to the overall growth, according to Globaldata, a leading data and analytics company. In contrast, production will continue to decline in Australia (-21.2%) due to the closure of the Ranger mine.
Uranium production fell by 9.2% in 2020
Vinneth Bajaj, Associate Project Manager at GlobalData, comments: “Global uranium production has been limited in recent years, mainly due to a sluggish market. This was further impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic from early 2020. In fact, global production of uranium fell by 9.2% to 49.7kt in 2020. The most significant declines were observed in Canada (43.9%) and Kazakhstan (14.6%) – globally, almost 60% of uranium originates from these two countries.”
In March 2020, Canada’s Cigar Lake mine, which accounts for 12-13% of global production, was suspended to contain the outbreak. The suspension stayed in place until September 2020, but was later halted again in mid-December 2020 because of the increasing risks. It reopened in April 2021.
In April 2020, Kazakhstan reduced activities for nearly four months at all uranium mines across the country. The pandemic also led to restrictions in other countries, including Australia, Namibia and South Africa. Gradually, however, restrictions began to ease towards the end of the third quarter, with several companies resuming production activities.
Uranium production on the rise in 2021
Bajaj continues: “Global uranium production is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.2% over the forecast period (2021–2025) to reach 65.2kt in 2025. Kazakhstan, which holds some of the world’s largest uranium deposits, is expected to remain the world’s largest supplier for the next few years. With potential open pit uranium mines, Namibia is also expected to remain a prominent supplier of uranium to the global markets. Furthermore, the restart of Cigar Lake, in April 2021 is expected to provide a much-needed boost to Canada’s uranium supply.”
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the global nuclear industry was relatively minimal because of an early implementation of safety measures, thereby ensuring operations continued with minimal disruption.
Bajaj notes: “These actions enabled companies to effectively manage their workforce and resources required to keep operations running. The refuelling of reactors normally takes place in every 12 to 18 months (unlike conventional fossil fuel plants that require constant supply), even when strict social restrictions are in place. Meanwhile, planned outages and expansion works at many reactors were delayed during early 2020 and, instead, companies focused on electricity generation anticipating higher demand later in 2020.”
Uranium is the nuclear option
There has been recent optimism surrounding the global nuclear industry, with several governments incorporating nuclear energy within their plans for reaching climate goals. For instance, the US is currently evaluating extending the operating life of its nuclear power plants for up to 100 years. The plants were initially licensed for up to 40 years, but this would permit renewals for up to 20 years with every renewal application.
Other countries such as China, Japan and South Korea, as well as the EU, all upgraded their climate change policies during 2020, indicating higher demand for nuclear power going forward - alongside higher electricity generated from sources other than coal.
Ivanhoe Mines copper set for China with Zijin, Citic deal
Ivanhoe Mines has inked significant deals with JV partner Zijin Mining and its subsidiary CITIC Metal to sell each 50% of the copper production from the recently launched first phase of its Kamoa-Kakula mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
The copper concentrate and blister copper off-take agreements will see wholly-owned Zijin unit Gold Mountains (H.K.) International Mining Co Ltd and CITIC Metal split the initial offtake from Kakula.
The DRC government has authorised exports to international markets and Ivanhoe has also announced a 10-year processing deal to utilise the DRC Lualuba smelter owned by CNMC.
CITIC Metal becomes Ivanhoe’s largest shareholder
Following a new share agreement, CITIC Metal will come to own 19.9% of Ivanhoe Mines’ issued and outstanding common shares when the placement is completed, establishing CITIC Metal as Ivanhoe’s largest single shareholder. Chairman and Founder Robert Friedland will be Ivanhoe’s second-largest shareholder, with over 17% shareholding.
Ivanhoe Mines intends to use the proceeds for the advancement of the company’s world-scale mine development projects in Southern Africa ─ Kamoa-Kakula, Platreef and Kipushi ─ and also for working capital and general corporate purposes.
CITIC Metal part of a bright future with Kamoa-Kakula’s potential to become the world’s highest-grade major copper mine
Friedland said the agreement with CITIC Metal is the culmination of a 15-year relationship between the leaderships of Ivanhoe Mines and CITIC.
“In 2003, the original Ivanhoe Mines was grappling with the challenge of developing its vast copper-gold discoveries at the Oyu Tolgoi Project in southern Mongolia. Following extensive discussions, Ivanhoe and CITIC established a strategic alliance to cooperatively pursue a number of selected common interests in metals production and related technologies.
“For some time now, the board of directors and senior management of today’s Ivanhoe Mines have been evaluating potential transactions that would combine the critical elements needed for Ivanhoe to advance the development of our exceptional assets that have been established in Southern Africa in recent years,” Friedland added.
“A fundamental, qualifying condition has been that any new partner must be complementary to our established partners, Zijin and the Japanese consortium led by ITOCHU Corporation. We are confident that CITIC Metal shares our vision and has the experience and financial resources to help us advance our three projects to production, creating value for Ivanhoe’s stakeholders in the DRC and South Africa, and our international shareholders.”