Uranium Spill Causes Delivery Delay

- January 25th, 2011

A cargo ship carrying physical uranium was between Hawaii and Midway Islands when bad weather during the Pacific crossing caused two drums of uranium to spill into the hold, prompting the crew to turn the ship back to British Columbia.

By Dave Brown – Exclusive to Uranium Investing News

Last week, Cameco (TSX:CCO) (NYSE:CCJ) announced loose uranium had spilled into a cargo ship’s hold after a number of the sea containers that held drums of uranium concentrate were damaged; however, according to the company the uranium remains safely confined within the ship’s hold. The MCP Altona is currently docked at the Port of Vancouver to replenish fuel and supplies.

The ship left Vancouver just before Christmas, bound for China carrying powdered uranium concentrate. On January 3, the ship was between Hawaii and Midway Islands when bad weather during the Pacific crossing caused two drums of uranium to spill into the hold, prompting the crew to turn the ship back to British Columbia.

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission issued a statement indicating there was “no risk to the environment or public at large.”  For public safety and remediation purposes uranium concentrate is generally handled the same as other heavy metals such as lead. The procedure for cleaning up uranium concentrate is considered to be similar to other routine industrial chemicals. The radiation and chemical risks are reduced by limiting the time of direct exposure and avoiding inhalation and ingestion. Radiation from uranium concentrate is quite low and is well below natural background levels four to five metres from a drum.

As of last week, Cameco’s assessment team was able to view a section of the cargo hold of the container ship and the company is continuing to work with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission and Transport Canada to finalize the remediation plan. The expectation is to determine the optimal location to implement plans to clean up, repackage and ship on to its original destination.

Cameco reported that it will disclose its earnings release summarizing the fourth quarter and annual results, audited financial statements and accompanying notes after markets close, Friday, February 11.

The Canadian uranium mining giant was last in the news for operational delays in 2006 and again in 2008, when a rockfall in the underground production area of the Cigar Lake mine led to successive periods of flooding.

The most recent producer to report a projected production shortfall is  Paladin Energy Ltd. (TSX:PDN) (ASX:PDN), which announced on January 20, that its 2011 operational target was reduced 14 percent due to production delays at its Kayelekera project in Malawi.

Upcoming Events

On Wednesday, The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) is holding a one day forum in Washington on nuclear fuel supply to provide information on policy issues related to the nuclear fuel industry. The key speakers for the event include professionals from key government agencies and organizations that shape policy to present their latest insights on the current context and short term outlooks. Delegates in the past have included: investors and financial institutions; uranium exploration and mining companies; uranium converters and enrichment companies; nuclear fuel fabricators; nuclear fuel brokers, traders and consultants; transporters of nuclear fuel; energy economists, legal experts in uranium and fuel contracting issues; government officials, policymakers and regulators; utility nuclear fuel managers and international energy organizations.

Uranium Spot Price Movement

This week, the spot uranium price continued to climb upward  increasing $2.50 to $69.00 per pound as reported by TradeTech. This marks the highest level reported for uranium prices on the spot market since April 2008. While some buyers have retreated from the marketplace due to the strengthening pressure on prices, others have been willing to pay a higher price in order to secure material. A total of over 800 thousand pounds of uranium was transacted over the course of the week, with the bulk of the volume purchased today at prices at, or very near the current spot market price range. Last week buyers included utilities, traders and financial entities and new demand has since emerged with a non-US utility seeking offers for a total of 400,000 pounds to be delivered in two shipments by July 2011.

Spot uranium supply remains thin and sellers are convinced of further price increases, resulting in suppliers holding material to increase the level of their offer prices with each consecutive transaction. The price rise has been spurred by reports of missed production targets from several producers.

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