As the global leader in uranium production, Kazakhstan is actually expecting to reduce its productive capacity next year in order to stabilize uranium spot market prices.
With 12 percent of global uranium resources and an expanding mining sector, Kazakhstan accounts for more than 40 percent of global uranium production. The country produced 22,800 tonnes of uranium in 2019.
Kazakhstan’s leading uranium producer and the largest global uranium producer by volume, Kazatomprom is responsible for nearly one-quarter of global uranium production. In April 2020, the uranium mining company said it expects Kazakhstan’s 2020 annual domestic uranium production to be as much as 4,000 tonnes lower than the previously expected 22,750 to 22,800 tonnes due to the impact of Covid 19 lockdowns. However, the company believes it has enough uranium inventory to meet its contract commitments.
Kazatomprom operates 17 uranium mines including existing partnerships with uranium miners such as Cameco (TSX:CCO,NYSE:CCJ), Orano Mining, Rosatom among others. The company has actively engaged a strategy of obtaining downstream interests in order to generate earnings from processing operations, in addition to its uranium mining and nuclear fuel distribution activities.
Uranium mining in Kazakhstan: Strategic location
Kazakhstan is the second largest former Soviet republic by area after Russia. In September 2002 Kazakhstan became the first country in the Former Soviet Union to receive an investment grade credit rating. In addition to vast uranium ore supplies, the country possesses expansive oil, gas and coal deposits and plentiful resources including gold, copper, chromium, lead and zinc.
Kazakhstan’ strategic location between China and Europe and the ability to quickly transport goods from one region to another gives the country direct access to a market of nearly 500 million people. “Strategically, it links the fast-growing markets of China and South-East Asia to the Middle East and Western Europe, about 65 percent of the world’s gross domestic product, with roads and railroads as well as with the ports of the Caspian Sea,” according to Jandos Temirgali, Strategic Projects Advisor to the Chairman of Kazakh Invest.
Uranium mining in Kazakhstan: Nuclear power
Kazakhstan has no national electricity grid; however, a northern grid connects Russia and additional links to the south adjoin Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. In 2017, 69 percent of the country’s electricity production originated from coal, 19 percent from natural gas, 11 percent from hydro and a very minuscule amount from wind. The Kazakhstan government’s energy system development plan outlined in 2012 calls for changes to the energy mix that would include 4.5 percent of electricity generation coming from nuclear power and 10 percent from renewable energy by 2030.
Kazakhstan has two proposed and planned nuclear power plants. In the past, the country had operated a nuclear power plant from 1973 until 1999, surpassing its original expected lifetime by six years. Kazakhstan’s nuclear power plant ambitions include large light-water reactors for the southern region. The proposals are for a new nuclear power plant near Lake Balkhash in the south of the country near the capital city of Almaty.
Although nuclear power does not currently supply any of Kazakhstan’s domestic electricity demand, the nation’s close proximity to the tremendous growth markets of both China and India are certainly noteworthy for uranium investors. China has 45 nuclear power plants in operation, 12 under construction and 30 planned. India has 22 nuclear power plants in operation, 7 under construction and 14 planned.
Securities Disclosure: I, Dave Brown, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.