Kazatomprom looks to US and restructures

24 October 2015

Kazakhstan national atomic company Kazatomprom has signed a memorandum of cooperation and US Centrus Energy (formerly known as USEC) that "specifies the development of mutually beneficial relations on competitive supplies of Kazakhstan's uranium to the world market". The document was signed by Kazaotmprom chairman Askar Zhumagaliyev and Centrus Energy senior vice-president Kevin Alldred during Zhumagaliyev's official visit to the USA.

Kazakhstan became the leading supplier of uranium to US nuclear power plants in 2014, overtaking Australia, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). According to the EIA's Uranium Marketing Annual Report, published in May, of the uranium purchased by US reactor owners and operators, 23% was of Kazakh origin, while 20% came from Australia and 18% from Canada. The total uranium supplied from Kazakhstan amounted to 12m pounds (5.4m kgs), almost double the 6.5m pounds supplied by Kazakhstan in 2013. In 2009, Kazakhstan became the world's main uranium producer after surpassing Canada. All uranium production and export in Kazakhstan is controlled by Kazatomprom.

Uranium reserves in Kazakhstan will last for 80 to 100 years, according to Sergey Poltoratskiy, Kazatomprom's managing director for nuclear fuel cycles. "About 35-40t of natural uranium in Kazakhstan goes to the world market. At the current rate of extraction, the uranium reserves will last for the next 80 or 100 years. Irrespective of this, additional geological exploration work will be conducted," he said.

Kazatomprom earlier in October said it plans to follow the example of other major uranium mining companies and create a trading subsidiary as part of a "transformation" strategy.

Umirzak Shukeyev, chairman of Samruk-Kazyna, Kazakhstan's sovereign wealth fund, said the key objectives include "trebling the company's value" by 2025. Samruk-Kazyna, which is Kazatomprom's sole shareholder, was launched in 2008 to increase economic efficiency and help attract foreign investors. Zhumagaliyev said Kazatomprom plans "to become the leading supplier of natural uranium on the world market, to diversify production at the front end of the nuclear fuel cycle, in particular, to start production of fuel assemblies".

The company plans to strengthen its marketing operations and in order to increase control of the production process, all the offices of its mining subsidiaries are to be transferred from Almaty to Shymkent and Kyzylorda. Some 27 non-core businesses are to be spun off from the company by 2019. This should increase the company's economic value added (EVA) to KZT32bn ($116m) by 2025, Zhumagaliyev said. EVA is the company profit less the cost of financing its capital.

Zhumagaliyev, Kazakhstan's former deputy minister for investment and development, was appointed CEO in May following the unexpected death of the company's previous CEO and chairman Nurlan Kapparov, who suffered a heart attack during a working visit to China.

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