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BEIJING — Canada’s vision to ship large quantities of oil and natural gas to China will be preceded by another key energy export: uranium.
Shipments of Canadian uranium concentrate are expected to arrive on Chinese shores within a year under a new agreement, once Parliament ratifies a new protocol for trade, says Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall.
“I just don’t see a lot of roadblocks” to an arrangement that is expected to open the door to some $3-billion in sales over the next decade, possibly starting as soon as six months from now, Mr. Wall said in an interview in Beijing this week. “It’s very significant.”
Saskatchewan-based uranium miner Cameco Corp. joined a major Canadian trade delegation here this month, encouraged by a supplementary protocol to the Canada-China Nuclear Co-operation Agreement negotiated earlier this year by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and signed by Foreign Minister John Baird this summer. The agreement will govern exports of uranium, used to fuel nuclear reactors.
China has 14 reactors now on line, 26 more under construction and several dozen more believed to be in the planning stages, part of its drive to move away from polluting fossil fuels in supplying its energy-hungry industries and population of 1.3 billion.
The country now imports most of its uranium from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Namibia and Australia, and has faced difficulties in securing supply, making the Canadian market that much more important.
“Who knows the scope of it. The [potential] is very huge – if you look at 85, 86 reactors, it’s a huge market,” said Ryan Baerg, a senior specialist in government relations with Cameco. China is expected to have more than 80 nuclear reactors by 2030. “That’s just massive growth in the nuclear program.”
Cameco already has lengthy fixed-commitment contracts with China’s two major nuclear utilities, but has been fulfilling these using operations in Kazakhstan rather than its primary mining operations in northern Saskatchewan.
With neighbouring Japan weaning itself off nuclear energy dependency following last year’s horrific earthquake, tsunami and resulting radioactive emissions from the Fukushima plant, the Chinese market has become even more important to the nuclear power industry.
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