Kazakhstan Expands Its Uranium Industry

by Joshua Foust on 4/28/2009 · 2 comments

Kazakhstan is aggressively internationalizing its uranium industry.

Drilling-underway-at-Khara

A new uranium mine has opened near Kyzylorda. When fully functional, it is expected to supply about 750 tons of uranium per year to China’s nascent nuclear power industry. It is the first joint Chinese-Kazakh venture, so it may portend the slow advance of Chinese influence in the region everyone (including us) has been predicting.

The opening took place the day after the start of the Kharasan 1 project, an extraction venture down near Shymkent shared by Canada and Japan and Kazatomprom. This time, the uranium is mostly bound for Japanese nuclear power plants.

Meanwhile, Toshiba—apparently encouraged by Kazatomprom’s purchase of its stake in Westinghouse in 2007—is looking to buy nuclear fuel rod assemblies from Kazakhstan as well. Toshiba has a stake in both Kharasan 1 and the Baiken-U project, which is developing the Kharasan 2 project further north.

The corporate entities in both Kharasan projects are identical: a 40% stake held by a Japanese consortium, a 30% stake held by an enormous Canadian company, UrAsia Energy, and a 30% stake held by Kazatomprom. But here’s the thing: the world’s biggest uranium producer has, for years, been Cameco, another Canadian mega-corp that also has gold mining interests. But the rapid expansion of Kazakhstan’s uranium industry in recent years—entirely, as best I can tell, sole-sourced to Kazatomprom—means that this year the Kazakh energy conglomerate is on track to replace Cameco as the world’s largest uranium extractor. (ahem).

With Kazakhstan receiving millions of U.S. dollars to continue setting up its global uranium fuel bank, it looks like Kazakhstan will become the world’s dominant player in uranium projects—even if it still doesn’t have any projects outside of Kazakhstan’s territory.

Of course, the other side of Kazakhstan’s rise is the continued presence of UrAsia Energy. While it’s not clear whether it is currently involved in any disreputable behavior, the company did gain some notoriety after the New York Times reported that Frank Giustra, UrAsia Energy’s former CEO, used a handshake from Bill Clinton to secure several mining projects. (If anyone can find out which projects, my contact info is in the upper left). The deal came to light right when Hillary Clinton’s fortunes in the U.S. Presidential election primary were faltering, prompting an embarrassing outburst by the former American president.

Registan.net’s previous coverage of Kazakhstan’s rise to nuclear energy dominance:
Japan in Central Asia
A New World Bank… for Uranium
Kazakhstan Wants a Piece of Westinghouse
Opposition to Kazatomprom-Westinghouse Deal
Russia’s World Bank for Uranium
Bill Clinton Did Something not at all Sketchy
Is Kazatomprom Dominating the Global Nuclear Industry?
Kazakhstan to Supply Uranium to India
Kazakhstan Continues to Push for Global Uranium Reserve

(Image courtesy Uranium1)


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This post was written by...

– author of 1849 posts on Registan.net.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from Registan.net. His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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{ 2 comments }

Narcogen April 29, 2009 at 1:11 am

Any role by Clinton in the Giustra deal mentioned in the NYT story has been thoroughly discredited. I don’t have a link handy but I think Google will serve you well in this. Bottom line was that the NYT insinuated that Giustra needed the pull of Clinton’s influence to get a government deal in KZ. The problem was that Giustra had already done several, Clinton had no involvement in the deal itself, the meeting between Clinton and N had no bearing on the deal, and to be honest at this point KZ doesn’t need Clinton to grab headlines, that’s what it pays its PR firms and beltway lobbyists millions for.

Positroll April 29, 2009 at 4:17 am

On the other hand, some junior players have made a lot of progress in Australia and southern Africa lately, e.g. http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/business/story/0,28124,25403227-15023,00.html
So while Kazakhstan may be on the rise, imO they won’t be in any position to “dominate” the market (hey, even Germany has its own uranium [though currently no active mining is taking place] … )

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