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Kazakhstan – uranium hotspot

With uranium spot prices recently breaking past US$70/lb, Dr Samuel Fenwick takes a timely look at the world’s largest uranium producer.

While Kazakhstan only has 12% of the world’s uranium reserves, compared to Australia’s 31% and Canada’s 9%, it has moved ahead in terms of output.

Kazakhstan’s uranium output rose by 63% in 2009 to hit 13,900t, overtaking both Australia and Canada in the process and was projected to rise to 18,222t in 2010, implying further growth of 30%. It is clear that the country is positioning itself for further growth, given comments made in mid 2010 by Nurlan Ryspanov, VP of Kazatomprom: ” As far as the nuclear industry develops and supply from secondary sources diminishes, we are expecting a shortage of natural uranium in the world from 2016.” Indeed, current projections are for the country to produce 25,000tpa by 2015.

The country’s resource of 1.6Mt is contracted in six provinces, of which  Shu-Sarysu province accounts for the majority (60.5%),with mines at Akdala, Buddenovskoye, Inkai, Kanzhugan, Moinkum, Mynkudu and Uvanas, all of which employ the in-situ method. In second place is  Northern Kazakhstan province, which holds 16.5% of reserves, with shaft mining operations taking place at Vostok. The third most important area in terms of uranium is Syrdarya, in the south, which holds 12.4%, with mining at Ikol, Northern and Southern Karamurun, and Khorassan, with in-situ mining the method of choice. Lli province holds 6%, followed by the Caspian and Balkkash provinces at 1.8% and 0.4%. At present, these latter three provinces are not engaged in uranium mining.

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