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Top uranium supplier says Kazakh unrest hasn’t hit output

The historic unrest sweeping Kazakhstan hasn’t affected uranium production at top supplier Kazatomprom, an executive for the company said, after the turmoil sparked a surge in prices for the nuclear fuel.

Kazakhstan, which produces more than 40% of the world’s uranium, disrupted communications networks and restricted some travel as the country struggled to cope with deadly protests. Russia and its allies dispatched troops to help quell the unrest, and dozens of anti-government protesters were killed by security forces, police said Thursday.

Despite the turmoil, uranium mining and work at all Kazatomprom’s units is continuing uninterrupted, according to a spokeswoman for the company.

“We are fulfilling all our obligations easily, there are no problems with uranium shipments and we will meet all delivery deadlines,” Kazatomprom Chief Commercial Officer Askar Batyrbayev said by phone on Thursday.

Uranium prices jumped almost 8% on Wednesday, according to data from UxC, a leading nuclear fuel market research and analysis firm. The turmoil could lead to more reliance on suppliers outside Kazakhstan, resulting in a surge in shares of uranium companies in North America and Australia.

While prices are rising on news of Kazakhstan’s unrest and potential supply disruptions, there isn’t an immediate uranium shortage or shutdown of nuclear power plants. Unlike facilities that run on oil or natural gas, nuclear power plants can continue operating if shipments are delayed, as many have built up stockpiles over the last several years.

Still, given Kazakhstan’s role as the world’s No. 1 uranium supplier, “it’d be like if the Saudis had issues in oil,” said Jonathan Hinze, president of consultant UxC. “Even if there isn’t a shortage right now, the potential for this to create a shortage is what people now are trading on.”

Given that more than half of Kazakh uranium exports go to China, there “might be some logistical hurdles with delivering products to the borders since major routes pass through Almaty region, where all the major clashes are ongoing,” said Toktar Turbay, a consultant at CRU Group. It will likely create “minor discomfort,” since China has in the last decade accumulated inventories that can cover 11-12 years of uranium demand, he said.

Kazatomprom shares are down 13% over the last two days in London. Most uranium companies in North America jumped Wednesday, extending gains earlier this week after the European Union pushed ahead with a plan to label certain nuclear projects as sustainable. – (Mining Weekly)

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