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Cablegate: Canada's Uranium: A Primer

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.



DEPT pass USTR (Chandler)

USDOC For ITA/MAC - Office of NAFTA Affairs

DOE for Int'l and Policy (Person), IE-141 (Deutsch) and BPA

Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Office of International
Programs (Rosales-Bush)

DOE For Energy Information Administration

E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Canada's Uranium: A primer


1. Canada is the largest uranium producer in the world - in
2002 production was 11,607 metric tonnes of uranium, about
one-third of total world production. Canada typically
provides 20 to 30 percent of uranium used in the United
States. The two main players are Cameco, a Canadian-based
publicly traded company and COGEMA, the mining arm of the
international nuclear group, AREVA. Despite low uranium
prices in the late 1990's and early 2000's, these mining
firms have invested in new mines and plants, and the
development of new high-grade deposits means that Canadian
producers are well positioned to capitalize on future market
opportunities. With U.S. electric utilities looking to
extend their existing plant operating licenses, increase
("uprate") their power output, and possibly build new
nuclear plants, Canada's uranium deposits may become even
more significant for U.S. energy interests in the coming
years. Concern does exist within the Canadian uranium
mining industry, however, that low uranium prices will
curtail exploration and could scuttle plans to bring new
deposits fully on line. End Summary.

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2. Canada is the world's largest producer of uranium. In
2002, production, at 13,689 metric tonnes (t) of uranium
oxide concentrate (representing 11,607 t Uranium), was about
a third of total world production. Its value was about C$
600 million. All of the active mines, as well as the vast
reserves, are located in the Athabasca basin region in the
northernmost quarter of the province of Saskatchewan.

3. Canada's low cost uranium reserves (Reasonably Assured
Resources plus Estimated Additional Resources) are 515,000
metric tonnes of uranium oxide (U3O8) (437,000 tonnes
Uranium, 14 percent of world total). (Note that Australia
has approximately double the reserves of Canada.)

4. Some C$539 million (one C$ currently equals approximately
US$0.74) was spent on uranium exploration in Canada from
1986 to 1997 and this led to a sharp increase in recoverable
resources. Despite depletion from mining, resources have
further increased slightly since 1997. Exploration
expenditure in 1998 was C$60 million, then $49 million in
1999 and 2000, mostly at established projects.

5. Australia's uranium reserves are the world's largest,
with 28% of the world's total (estimated at about 750,000
metric tonnes of uranium). Australia is the world's second-
largest producer of uranium, responsible for about 19% of
total global production in 2002, with 6888 metric tones of
uranium. In 2002 the United States was the world's eighth
ranked producer of uranium, producing 919 metric tonnes of
uranium from mines (as opposed to use of HEU from former
national military stockpiles).

6. Currently, Canada supplies 20 to 30 percent of uranium
used in the United States - typically this is shipped to the
United States as Uranium Hexaflouride, which is then
enriched to become fuel for American light water reactors.


7. Two producers account for over 90 percent of Canadian
uranium production. Saskatoon, Saskatchewan-based Cameco is
the largest producer in the world with 5479 metric tonnes of
uranium produced in Canada in 2002. Cameco was created in
1988 by the merger of two government corporations, the
Saskatchewan Mining Development Corporation and El Dorado
Nuclear Limited. Cameco is now fully owned by private
investors after the government of Saskatchewan sold its 10
percent share in 2002. The company's 56 million shares are
traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange (symbol - CCO) and the
New York Stock Exchange (symbol - CCJ). Cameco also
operates uranium mines in Wyoming and Nebraska. The company
produces nuclear electricity as an owner of, and the sole
fuel supplier to, Bruce Power's operating nuclear reactors
in Ontario (four currently operating, two soon to re-start).

8. Uranium ore mined by Cameco in Saskatchewan is milled
into "yellowcake" (a uranium oxide concentrate) at
facilities also located in northern Saskatchewan. The
milled "yellowcake" is then shipped to Cameco's refining
plant at Blind River, Ontario and conversion plant at Port
Hope, Ontario for processing into uranium dioxide for use as
fuel in the Canadian built heavy-water "CANDU" reactors
located in Canada, Korea, China, and elsewhere. The Port
Hope facility also produces uranium hexafluoride which is
shipped to the United States and elsewhere for enrichment
into fuel for light-water reactors. The facility at Port
Hope has a capacity to convert 12,500 metric tonnes of
uranium per year into uranium hexaflouride.

9. COGEMA Resources Incorporated (CRI) is a wholly owned
subsidiary of Paris-based COGEMA, itself wholly owned by the
international nuclear industrial group, AREVA. CRI is the
second largest producer of uranium in Canada, with 5425
metric tonnes of uranium produced in 2002. CRI's activities
in Canada are limited to mining and milling uranium into
yellowcake; CRI has no conversion facilities in Canada, but
exports yellowcake for conversion and enrichment (to France
and the United States). CRI's principal mines are McClean
Lake, and its part ownership in the mines at Cigar Lake and
McArthur River, all in Saskatchewan.


10. Canada is in the midst of a transition from second-
generation uranium mines (started 1975-83) to new high-grade
ones, all in northwestern Saskatchewan. In 1999-2000, mines
at McArthur River and McClean Lake commenced production,
producing some 3700 metric tonnes of uranium and 2300 tonnes
of uranium respectively. Three more mines (Cigar Lake,
Midwest and Dawn Lake) are planned. The Cigar Lake mine is
closest to opening and is expected to produce 7000 metric
tonnes of uranium annually once it is on line, around 2006.

--------------------------------------------- -
--------------------------------------------- -

11. Production at Cameco's McArthur River mine, said to be
the world's largest, was temporarily suspended in April 2003
due to underground flooding. Cameco anticipates that
production at McArthur River will resume in July 2003. The
company forecasts that 2003 net earnings will decline by $4
to $5 million for every month the mine remains inoperable.
However, Cameco expects to fully deliver on its 2003 sales
contracts through its inventory and other supply sources.

12. The first labor dispute in the history of Canada's
uranium mining industry ended after a brief, five-day work
stoppage in June 2003. Unionized workers at CRI demanded
wage increases to be on par with their counterparts at
Cameco. Though still below Cameco pay levels, CRI workers
negotiated a 10.5 percent increase in wages over a three-
year term. The short stoppage is not expected to affect
CRI's production forecasts.

13. CRI is currently appealing a September 2002 Canadian
Federal Court ruling that cancelled their 1999 operating
license for the McClean Lake project on the grounds that CRI
had not conducted an adequate environmental review under the
Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. In November 2002,
the Federal Court of Appeal granted a stay of the previous
decision while the case is appealed. Currently, the McClean
Lake mine is operating under a four-year operating license
issued in 2001 that increased the mine's production capacity
up to 3600 metric tonnes of U3O8 per year. A shutdown of
the McClean Lake mine would eliminate a significant portion
of CRI's current uranium production.

--------------------------------------------- ---------
--------------------------------------------- ---------

14. It is not a sure bet, however, that Cigar Lake, Midwest
and Dawn lake will come on stream as scheduled - or that
other new resources will be developed. During a speech to
investors in March 2003, the CEO of Cameco, Gerald Grandey,
noted that forecast uranium production will fall short of
the uranium market's requirements by 300 million pounds over
the next 10 years. Although secondary sources (such as
inventory from ex-military stockpiles) do provide a
significant amount of uranium for fuel, this contribution,
according to uranium industry advocates, is still not
sufficient to make up the shorfall in uranium supply.
Grandey's analysis is that the capital investment needed to
cover the deficit "will require higher sustained prices" and
that he is "convinced it is a case of when, not if, prices
improve." Currently, the spot price of uranium is
recovering from an historic low of US$7 per pound in 2000 to
almost US$11 per pound currently (though far from the high-
water marks of US$16 per pound in 1988 and 1996).


15. Canada's high-grade uranium deposits in northern
Saskatchewan offer a secure fuel supply for American nuclear
power plants. To ensure that known deposits are brought to
production, and to encourage further exploration will,
however, require an increase in the price of uranium,
according to industry analysts. GoC officials and industry
contacts remain interested in maintaining a close dialogue
with USG in order to address important uranium market issues
and presumably to encourage uranium industry investment in
mines and exploration.


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