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IN BRIEF

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#628
27/05/2005
Article

The fall and rise of uranium prices.

(May 27, 2005) As press reports claiming uranium prices are 'exploding' appear and the number of new uranium exploration licenses thus increase (even in Europe: Finland, Sweden), it is time to pay some attention to it.

Historically, the uranium price has varied considerably in response to supply and demand, although an open market did not exist in the early times since the U.S. government was the sole purchaser. By the end of the 1970s, the uranium spot price had peaked at approx. US$ 43/lb U3O8 in response to increased U.S. government demand; it soon leveled off to approx. US$ 10/lb U3O8, leading bit by bit to the shutdown of nearly all conventional mining in the U.S.; only in-situ leach mining continued at a low level.

With the end of the Cold War in 1989, large amounts of secondary resources entered the market, and the price kept fluctuating around this level in the 1990s, with a minor peak in mid-1996 at US$ 16.60/lb U3O8. At that time it appeared that secondary supplies would come to an end, but the uranium price dropped again, until it reached a low of approx. US$ 7/lb U3O8 by the end of the year 2000. Since then it has been rising, currently with increasing speed, and has more than quadrupled.

The first conventional mines in the U.S. have restarted after decades of inactivity and the uranium exploration business attracts all kinds of venturesome investors now; the list of uranium mining and exploration companies maintained at the WISE Uranium home page shows more than 250 entries now. The rise in prices even induced a new business model. In anticipation of a further rise in market prices, a company named Uranium Participation Corp., managed by uranium miner Denison Mines Inc., was established in March 2005, its sole purpose "to invest in, hold and sell uranium oxides in concentrates (U3O8)".

Taking inflation into account, current price levels are still far below those at the end of the 1970s. In addition, the spot market price does not necessarily reflect the prices actually paid, since only a small fraction of the uranium is traded on the spot market; it is more a hypersensitive indicator of the short-term supply and demand situation.
WISE Uranium; www.wise-uranium.org

 

U-exploration in Mongolia: Blatant Colonialism.

(May 27, 2005) The homepage of the Canadian (Vancouver based) company UGL Enterprises Ltd reads: "Uranium Gold Copper. Mongolia is OURS to discover". One would expect that companies in 2005 have some PR-expert explaining how unwise it is to be so honest about their intentions. UGL reports that its search for "world class uranium deposits" has led to the acquisition of a further six Mongolian exploration licenses. UGL has now acquired 10 uranium properties through license application or outright purchase, covering over 250,000 hectares throughout Mongolia. All of the properties were acquired for their prospective characteristics, including multiple uranium occurrences, radiometric anomalies and/or favorable geology for sediment-hosted, near-surface uranium deposits. The new licenses are located in the Mongolian provinces of Khovsgol, Khentii, Dungobi and Dornogovi.
Mongolia is a huge country (about three times the size of France) with a population of about 2.3 million, located between Russia and China. Mining is far and away Mongolia's leading industry, accounting for 50% of industrial output and more than 40% of its export earnings. The exploration boom began with the introduction of new foreign-friendly mining laws in 1997.
http://www.uglenterprises.com and UGL press release May 10, 2005

 

USA: Western Shoshone case against Yucca Mountain rejected.

(May 27, 2005) The Shoshone tribe is considering whether to appeal a federal judge's decision to reject their attempt to stop plans for a national nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. The Western Shoshone National Council had challenged the US Department of Energy's proposed use of the land, which is within ancient Shoshone territory, as violating the 1863 Ruby Valley Treaty (see Nuclear Monitor 624, 18 March 2005). Because "DOE has not yet applied for or been granted a license to operate" the repository, "any harm caused by disposing nuclear waste in Yucca Mountain cannot be characterized as 'immediate and irreparable' at this point in time," Judge Philip Pro said in the ruling. "[I]n the event circumstances change and plaintiffs are able to identify specific activities which would cause identifiable immediate and irreparable harm, plaintiffs may renew their request," Pro said. Robert Hager, attorney for the national council, said May 19 that he was "encouraged" by this part of the ruling. The court gave DOE until July 20 to file a motion to dismiss on jurisdictional grounds the council's broader lawsuit opposing the repository project.
Statement by Robert Hager: "The Western Shoshone National Council would like to thank Judge Pro for his thoughtful consideration of the claims brought under the Treaty. To the Western Shoshone people, the past and ongoing desecration of Yucca Mountain and Mother Earth hurts their individual and collective spirit, although we understand that kind of harm is not recognized by the law as "immediate and irreparable injury" that is required for a preliminary injunction.
The Court has found that the Treaty of Ruby Valley may prohibit the use of Yucca Mountain and the entire Western Shoshone Territory as a nuclear waste dump, which is what this case is about. We are also encouraged by the Court ruling that the Western Shoshone Plaintiff's may again request an immediate injunction in the event circumstances change and activities at Yucca Mountain threaten immediate and irreparable harm."
Western Shoshone Attorney Robert Hager statement, 18 May 2005; Nuclear Fuel, 23 May 2005

 

Spain: Roundtable on phase-out.

(May 27, 2005) The national congress has voted to establish a parliamentary roundtable to discuss the gradual phase-out of nuclear power and broad changes in the Nuclear Safety Council (CSN). The legislators rejected a resolution calling for a plan to shut down the country's nine nuclear power reactors within six months and the immediate closure of the Garona BWR, the second-oldest unit in the country. The oldest - Zorita - is already scheduled to close next year. Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero - who won Spain's general election in 2004 - has pledged to follow through on his Socialist Party's pledge to phase-out nuclear power. After winning the elections he told parliament that his government would 'gradually abandon' nuclear energy and increase funding for renewable energy sources toward a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But he gave no details regarding the time frame for such a goal. Representatives of utilities, nuclear stations, unions and politicians will attend the roundtable discussions.
WNA News Briefing 20 April 2004 and 24 May 2005

 

PFS license preliminarily approved; final NRC Commissioners' decision imminent.

(May 27, 2005) On May 24, the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB), the adjudicatory arm of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), approved the licensing of Private Fuel Storage (PFS), rejecting Utah's motion for reconsideration and paving the way for the NRC Commissioners to consider the matter. The Commissioners are expected to approve the project quickly (see Nuclear Monitor 626: "Opposition to PFS mounts from public interest groups and tribes"). PFS is the proposal made by eight commercial nuclear utilities to build and operate a "temporary" commercial high-level radioactive waste dump on the Skull Valley Goshute Indian Reservation in Utah. PFS will not reduce the risks posed by high-level radioactive waste even temporarily. Waste will always remain on-site at operating reactors, and by transporting it and storing it above ground in yet another part of the country, PFS will just make the existing problem worse. The "temporary" nature of PFS is also questionable, as this aspect of the project is completely dependent on the opening of Yucca Mountain, which has been beset with problems, and may never open.
Action Alert, NIRS, 24 May 2005

 

More money for Chernobyl Shelter Fund.

(May 27, 2005) At a pledge meeting in London on May 12, the European Commission announced an additional €49 million (US$65 million) to the international Chernobyl Shelter Fund (CSF). The conference was organized by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and attended by representatives of the European Commission, all G8 countries and Ukraine. Russia will contribute to the fund for the first time. This additional contribution comes on top of more than €600 million (US$803 million) already pledged to the fund by 28 donor governments in 1997 and 2000. The EC has now committed a total of €239.5 million (US$320 million) to the Fund since 1997, making it the main donor.
The Chernobyl Shelter Fund is managed by the EBRD and was established in 1997 to fund the Shelter Implementation Plan (SIP). The European Union has been the largest contributor to the fund.
The main objective of the SIP, which was developed collaboratively by the EU, the United States and the Ukraine, is to convert Chernobyl's reactor 4, destroyed by the accident, into "an environmentally-safe site". Under the plans, an arch-shaped confinement with a height of 100 meters and a span of 250 meters will be assembled in an area near the site and eventually slid across the old sarcophagus. It is designed to provide a solid containment for the remnants of the reactor. It will also be fitted with equipment to undertake works that will become necessary in the future, such as deconstruction of unstable parts of the old shelter and the removal of its radioactive inventory.
The project is estimated to cost US$1,091 million (€815 million) and will be complete by 2008-2009.
European Union, press release, 12 May 2005; EBRD press release, 12 May 2005

 

Secret documents on French N-test surface.

(May 27, 2005) Inhabitants of the Gambier Islands in French Polynesia have called for access to defence ministry files on the impact on their health of 30 years of French nuclear tests on Pacific atolls. The French defence ministry immediately described allegations, by two French dailies, that the army knowingly exposed the people of French Polynesia to heightened risks during nuclear tests in the 1990s as "baseless".
On 18 May, the Liberation newspaper - citing a "secret military document" - said France has "concealed the risks that nuclear tests posed to the Polynesians" and had not protected citizens during a 1966 test.
One day later, Le Figaro newspaper published excerpts from "secret documents" indicating that the preventive evacuation of the Gambier Islands in the Pacific Ocean was ruled out for "political and psychological reasons".
The defense ministry spokesman did not directly challenge the documents cited in the French media, but called for caution with respect to how they were interpreted.
Roland Oldham, president of the "Murura e Tatou" (Mururoa and us) association of some 5,000 Polynesians who worked on the two nuclear sites in Polynesia between 1966 and 1996, recalls the very powerful "Aldebaran" nuclear test carried out in Mururoa from a barge on July 2, 1966 in the presence of then French leader General Charles de Gaulle. Oldham added that the fallout was carried by the wind to Gambier, 500 kilometers away.
For 30 years, French Polynesia was the place where France conducted its nuclear weapons tests on the atolls of Mururoa and Fangataufa, west of the Gambier Islands, where a total of 193 tests took place -- 41 atmospheric and 152 underground. The last atmospheric test, under a tethered balloon dubbed "Aquarius", took place on September 14, 1974 and the last underground test was on January 27, 1996 in Fangataufa.
AFP, 19 & 20 May 2005