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More than 20 years after the Cold War ended, Saskatchewan’s uranium sector is finally moving past it.
Following years of lobbying from Premier Brad Wall, the federal government has agreed to strike down foreign ownership restrictions on uranium mining in its proposed free trade deal with Europe. It opens the door for eager foreign companies like Areva SA and Rio Tinto Ltd. to make much larger investments in Saskatchewan’s uranium-rich Athabasca Basin.
“From the moment we were elected [in 2007], we’ve been working with the federal government on this,” Mr. Wall said in an interview. “In terms of uranium mining, it’s certainly a new day.”
The investment restrictions have been in place since 1970, when Ottawa introduced the non-residential ownership policy (or NROP). The law prevents foreign companies from owning more than 49% of a uranium mine in Canada, unless they cannot find a Canadian partner. It is a direct result of Cold War-era concerns about nuclear proliferation, and has looked increasingly dated in the years since then. Saskatchewan is the only province with producing uranium mines, so it is the only one affected by the law.
Over the last several years, foreign companies became more confident that the NROP was nearing an end.
In 2008, Canada’s Competition Policy Review Panel recommended the foreign ownership restrictions be lifted. And in 2011, Rio Tinto made a direct challenge to them. The Anglo-Australian mining giant paid $654-million for a Saskatchewan uranium deposit, even though the rules forbid Rio from owning more than 49% once it goes into production.
Rio said it welcomed the easing of the Canadian restrictions. Areva, a French nuclear company with minority stakes in many Saskatchewan uranium projects, said it is a positive development.
The NROP has limited the competition for Canadian uranium leader Cameco Corp., which owns stakes in most of the major projects in the Athabasca.
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