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Uranium Week: Another One Bites The Dust

Weekly Reports | Sep 25 2018

America’s oldest nuclear reactor shut down last week. Meanwhile, the spot uranium price continues to rise.

-Oyster Creek shuts down
-IAEA has a warning for governments
-Uranium spot price marches ever onward

By Greg Peel

In December 1964, construction began on the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant in New Jersey. In 1969, the reactor was connected to the grid. Last week, Oyster Creek – America’s oldest operating reactor — was shut down. It wasn’t just a matter of old age, as the reactor was licensed to operate for yet another ten years.

The reactor is the sixth to be closed down in the US in the last five years. Twelve more are slated for decommissioning by 2025. In most cases, a lack of commercial viability in today’s energy market, dominated by cheap gas, has been the deciding factor. At Oyster Creek, it was a case of the New Jersey state government changing water usage rules that would have required operator Exelon to build new cooling towers at an estimated cost of US$800m.

The US uranium production and nuclear power industries remain in a state of flux, beholden to both state government policy – supportive or otherwise – and to federal government policy, which is currently being reviewed.

Foresight Required

There are thirty countries in the world currently operating nuclear reactors. Of those thirty, several are looking to expand their fleet and/or upgrade existing reactors to increase operating life. Several others are aiming to downsize or retire their fleets. A further thirty countries are currently considering plans to introduce nuclear energy.

It’s a long process. Had Oyster Creek seen out its license, it would have marked 65 years from construction to decommissioning, and that’s assuming the license wasn’t extended or the plant refurbished in the interim. As industry consultant TradeTech reports, last week the International Atomic Energy Agency noted that “strong and consistent government support is vital to the success of nuclear power. From inception through decommissioning, at least a century of vigilance is required for nuclear power plants, and necessary oversight as well as research and development can be carried out only under consistent national policies regarding nuclear power”.

Over the last several years, a change in stripe of the government in the electoral cycle of a democratic nation has brought about a change to vital energy policy approach. In Australia, it doesn’t even take a full electoral cycle nor a change of stripe of government. The country has had seven prime ministers in ten years and in most cases, downfalls have been brought about due to energy policy disagreement either between political parties or within them.

The country currently driving global nuclear reactor builds is China. There’s a lot to be said for a communist dictatorship run by a president for life when it comes to energy policy. At the very least it provides for foresight – something completely lacking in today’s democracies that live simply from election to election and change policies at will to ensure survival.

Perhaps it requires a country to near choke itself to death with pollution to provide the necessary wake-up call. (See: The World Needs Nuclear Energy For EVs)

The Smart Money

The shift towards electric vehicles is arguably one reason why uranium has become popular as an investment in recent months. Weekly volumes in the global spot uranium market continue to rise. Last week saw no less than 2mlbs U3O8 changes hands in ten transactions, TradeTech reports, yet not one featured an actual end-user on the buy-side.

Rather, the buyers included intermediaries, producers buying in to cover delivery contracts rather than actually mine the stuff at a loss, and “financial entities”, as TradeTech dubs them. Typically this would be code for hedge funds playing speculator, but now it is listed investment funds that are in on the act, pooling investor funds to simply buy and store yellow cake.

TradeTech’s weekly spot price indicator rose another US45c to US$27.65/lb last week.

There were no transactions reported in uranium term markets. TradeTech’s indicators remain at US$29.50/lb (mid) and US$31.00/lb (long).

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