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Uranium Week: Nuclear’s Role In Electric Vehicles 

Weekly Reports | Dec 08 2020

As the spot uranium price remains range-bound, Elon Musk predicts electricity demand will double by 2040 and nuclear must play a role

-Nuclear’s role to meet electric vehicle uptake
-Silex Systems advances enrichment agreement 
-Uranium spot price continues to trade between US$29.00-30.00/lb

By Mark Woodruff

Media outlets have widely reported Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s comments that electricity demand will likely double over the next two decades as a result of the uptake of electric vehicles. Musk added that “to do this, we have to increase the capacities of wind, solar and nuclear power plants”. Musk made the comments whilst in Germany where Tesla plans to build its fourth gigafactory. 

“Musk holds enormous gravitas in the clean energy world, so his support for nuclear power – in the context of enormous potential disruption to electricity demand – will influence policy makers as well as their constituents. The fact he was speaking to a German audience won’t be lost on other jurisdictions who are considering their future energy mix,” said Brandon Munro, CEO of Bannerman Resources.   

Munro, who is co-chair of the World Nuclear Association’s (WNA) Nuclear Fuel Demand working group, has tracked the potential impact of the electrification of transport on the nuclear sector.  

At the World Nuclear Association Symposium 2018, he outlined potential impacts of the EV revolution on nuclear energy. He forecast that nuclear energy’s share of EV-driven power growth could amount to 25 new reactors globally by 2030.  

Country News

In a draft proposal published last week, a group of Japanese lawmakers in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party said that non-fossil fuels, such as renewable energy and nuclear power, should account for 50% or more of Japan's energy mix in 2030.

In October, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Japan would aim to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. This is a major shift for the world’s third-largest economy, which relies heavily on imported fossil fuels.

A government advisory body last week agreed to a proposal for the Czech Republic to phase out coal-fired power plants by 2038. This is as the country moves forward with plans to build a new unit at the Dukovany Nuclear Power Plant.

Karel Havlicek, one of the two chairmen of the body, said the government is planning to invest approximately US$16 billion by 2050, to generate power from other sources. However, the advisory body includes representatives of the coal industry, experts, and environmental activists, and the Czech government has yet to approve the plan.

For many years the Czech Republic has been a substantial net exporter of electricity to its neighbours.The reduction in power from its phase-out of coal will only be partially offset by current plans, including new-nuclear, with the national strategy relying on a drop in power exports.  

This will particularly impact Germany, which is struggling to eliminate its own coal-fired power production after phasing out nuclear.

Legislative News

Legislation aimed at supporting the US nuclear fuel cycle advanced this week with the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works approving the American Nuclear Infrastructure Act.

The bipartisan bill includes an annual program for a US Strategic Uranium Reserve reports industry consultant TradeTech. It also includes a targeted federal credit program aimed at preserving commercial reactors at risk of premature shutdown due to economic reasons. 

The bill now goes to the full Senate for a vote, which will likely take place in 2021.

Company News

An individual at Cameco's Cigar Lake uranium mine in Canada has tested positive for covid-19 and has been in isolation since November 22.

Cameco is working with the Northern Population Health Unit and is following all guidance. Contact tracing is under way.

It should be noted there have been positive cases at many mines around the world, which have continued to operate regardless. These include Rossing, Husab (Namibia) and SamizBai (Kazakhstan) that have had more than 50 aggregate cases.

ASX-listed technology company Silex Systems said this week it may be able finalise the joint deal for its purchase of GE-Hitachi Global Laser Enrichment (GLE) in January next year.

The Separation of Isotopes by Laser EXcitation (SILEX) process is the only third generation enrichment technology at an advanced stage of commercialisation today.

In December 2019, a binding agreement between Silex, Cameco Corporation and GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) was executed for the joint purchase of GEH’s 76% interest in GLE. 

Closing of the agreement, which remains subject to US Government approval and other factors, would result in Silex acquiring a 51% interest in GLE and Cameco increasing its interest from 24% to 49%. 

Silex has been advised by the US Treasury Department it can expect a result by January 18, 2021.

Uranium Pricing 

TradeTech's Weekly Spot Price Indicator closed at $29.70/lb, up US$0.40 from Friday, November 27.

Five transactions totalling 450,000lbs U3O8 are reported for the week. 

US and non-US utilities are contemplating possible off-market purchases before year end, explains TradeTech. Utilities remain largely covered in the immediate term, but a few are considering spot discretionary purchases and potential mid-term purchases. 

The weekly spot uranium price has exhibited marginal volatility for several weeks, remaining between US$29.00 and US$30.00/lb since mid September. This defies the seasonal price uptick that has generally been a feature of the uranium sector during the last decade.

While the Indicator has risen nearly 20% overall in 2020, it has declined over -13% since reaching a four-year-high of US$34.25 in May. 

The average weekly uranium spot price for 2020 is US$29.68/lb, US$3.85 above the 2019 average.

TradeTech's term price indicators are unchanged at US$33.75/lb (mid) and US$37.00/lb (long). 

The resolution of the amended Russian Suspension Agreement has removed much of the uncertainty confronting US utilities for most of 2020. However, long-term US demand has been slow to emerge, as utilities assess the market environment and evaluate the impact of covid-19 on their cash flow and near-term operations. 

A slow but steady increase in term uranium demand in coming months is expected to exert upward pressure on uranium prices, predicts TradeTech.

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