Kazakhstan Plans to Remain World Uranium Leader, Says Official

KYZYLORDA REGION – Kazakhstan’s share in world uranium production over the past year reached 38 percent, landing the country in first place.

A recent meeting in the village of Shieli Priaralie with the Chairman of the Board of National Atomic Company Kazatomprom Vladimir Shkolnik and Deputy Regional Governor Galym Amreyev examined developments in the nuclear industry over recent years. Issues regarding key strategic enterprises were addressed.

“I’d like to note that the company finished 2013 successfully and all desired indicators of the physical volume of production were met,” Shkolnik said in opening the meeting. At that, he stated that Kazakhstan’s share in world uranium production was 38 percent, rendering it the number one producer of the radioactive element.

The head of Kazatomprom reminded that there are complicated conditions in the uranium industry, especially in connection with the accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan. Almost all uranium producing entities bear losses. However, Kazatomprom was an exception and the company completed last year with a profit of over 30 billion tenge (US$163 million.) Nevertheless, it is not difficult to imagine the scale of the losses of nuclear companies taking into account the fact that the global market prices for natural uranium decreased from 55 to 28 dollars per pound.

Kazatomprom is looking to remain dominant in the market, Shkolnik said noting that the company has been recognised as best in the world in a long series of parametres, including the availability of technologies and financial indicators, efficient use of capital and investments. It is unlikely that world leadership in uranium production will change.

As for uranium industry forecasts, they differ, but are optimistic. A rise is expected in one or two years or perhaps even earlier. The latter forecast is advanced by analysts of banks and companies who determine pricing policies.

The head of the company discussed three strategic directions in their work defined by the government.

“The first task is the development of the full nuclear fuel cycle. In the past year, we became co-owners of a uranium enrichment plant. Our product – enriched uranium, was exported to foreign markets and the company profited,” he said.

In addition, Kazatomprom, together with French and Chinese partners is involved in the construction of a plant for heat-transmitting assemblies to be used in the nuclear industry.

“During President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s visit to China, it was officially confirmed at the highest level that we will design and construct a plant for heat-transmitting assemblies together with Chinese companies. The project has already been approved,” he said. At that, he noted that today, similar operations in the world are loaded only at 60-70 percent. But in this case, we are talking about the latest technologies and that the plant will be built for new reactors.

By 2030, China plans to build more than 100 nuclear power units, some of which are already under construction, said Shkolnik.

The company has also made progress in a second strategic direction – the development of renewable energy. For almost three years, full cycle photovoltaic panels have been manufactured. Among the achievements is the production of high quality metallurgical silicon for solar modules manufactured by Astana Solar LLP jointly with French companies and construction of solar power plants from domestically manufactured photovoltaic panels in the Aral Sea region. High solar activity and rare rainfalls there create particularly favourable conditions for such business. In addition, the project is very attractive due to the sale price of electricity – 70 tenge (US$00.38) per 1 kW.

The company develops new wind power technologies. Together with the Japanese company Toshiba, they will build a power station with a capacity of 20.5 MW and a plant for the production of wind turbines with a total capacity of 100 MW per year in the Mangystau region. These products will be in demand in the Eurasian Economic Union.

No less ambitious goals have been set for the company in creating local small capacity energy systems which can use both solar and wind energy. Such systems are needed not only in remote villages and farms, but also in pastures.

The third strategic direction encompasses the development of rare earth metals metallurgy. There is already good progress in this field: in early 2013, a plant for rare earth oxides capable of producing 1,500 tonnes annually was put into operation in the city of Stepnogorsk. The company is successfully increasing its production.

“Here, it is economically feasible to build a metal oxides plant and then implement a large programme to produce super magnets, various alloys and compounds; without such measures, progress in the 21st century is virtually impossible,” Shkolnik said regarding his plans.

This strategic direction of the company in turn implies its participation in new promising projects in the Aral Sea region and the creation of a metallurgical cluster.

The Kazatomprom delegation visited the Uranenergo production centre, which today involves three types of renewable energy. The needs of the enterprise for electricity and heat are provided by solar power plants with 250 kW capacities, a wind combined power farm (Bolotov) with a capacity of 7 kW and a heat pump. It is three times more efficient and cheaper than electric heating.

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