Uranium Production in Kazakhstan Remains Unaffected by Unrest
Author: Aru Atibekova
Jan 24, 2022
Kazakhstan has long been a major player in the global uranium market due to its large reserves and low cost of production. The country is the world's largest producer of nuclear fuel, providing around 40% of the worldwide supply. Kazakhstan exports around half of its uranium to China; the remainder goes to Europe, Canada, and the United States. Imports from the Central Asian state meet around 20% of the annual demand for uranium in Europe and about 22% in the United States.
Uranium importers, including Canada and the European Union, have expressed fear that unrest in Kazakhstan might hinder uranium production and delivery. The political crisis that started as protests over a fuel price rise led to a countrywide state of emergency and government resignation as a result of simultaneous but separate violence, primarily in the business capital, Almaty. The nation faced a total internet blackout and a curfew. In recent days, however, the situation in the country has stabilized, and the country’s president, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, has been announcing economic changes and other actions.
S&P Global Platts has estimated that uranium prices surged 8.3 percent to $46.50 per pound since the beginning of the protests. The prices of the country’s national atomic Company, Kazatomprom JSC, shares dropped by 11 percent in the same period. Despite these challenges, Kazatomprom offered customers assurances that their offices, manufacturing facilities, and mines are unaffected by the domestic disturbances. The company announced that “the impact of the unrest on the Company’s business was minor.” The company’s most recent update reports the Internet, other telecommunications, and financial-services sectors are operating as usual. Other atomic energy-related enterprises in the country, including Canadian Cameco and French Orano, have also stated that they suffered no impact on output or exports.
One worry due to the recent violence in Kazakhstan had been over a potential interruption in supply chains. Almaty, the epicenter of the unprecedented violence, is located far from Turkestan and Kyzylorda, the regions with key uranium deposits and active mines. Still, some doubts remained about secure transportation from production sites to consumers. Uranium transported to China passes through Almaty, which could complicate the delivery process. Foreign customers have expressed worries about the disturbances in the supply routes due to partial suspensions of railway services and emergency checkpoints at the entrances and exits in Almaty.
The fears nuclear fuel exports might be disrupted proved unfounded. There was no suspension of rail-freight transit in the country; only passenger trains were temporarily halted. Moreover, even had there been short-term interruptions in uranium deliveries from the Central Asian state, China has sufficient uranium in stock to meet domestic demands. China has stockpiled 120,000 tonnes of uranium during the previous decade, enough to meet its nuclear demand for the next 10 years.
Nor did Kazakhstan’s political crisis directly affect the supply chain of uranium exported to Europe and North America. Uranium heading west typically goes through the Black Sea and Russia, bypassing the Almaty region.
While the January political violence did not produce mining or delivery disruptions for uranium from Kazakhstan, North American uranium giants announced their willingness and ability to meet supply shortfalls. Cameco, a Canadian uranium Company, has announced that if the world market requires, it could restart production of around 24 million pounds of uranium per year. Similarly, Energy Fuels Inc, located in the United States, reported it could begin producing 500,000 pounds of uranium yearly within six months if uranium prices spike as a result of political instability in Kazakhstan.