Uranium bulls are "as rare as white unicorns" according to a commentary in FNArena in September 2019, and the market is "sick and dying" with uranium "quickly becoming a dinosaur of a commodity".
Canadian company Cameco recently said it cannot see any case for construction of new uranium mines for some years to come. Chief financial officer Grant Isaac said that new mines will not win financial backing without a far stronger recovery in demand for uranium than is currently on the horizon.
"It's pretty hard to say you're going to take the risk on an asset … that isn't licensed, isn't permitted, probably doesn't have a proven mining method, when you have idle tier one capacity that's licensed, permitted, sitting there," Isaac said.
Moreover, Cameco has no plans to restart mines put into care-and-maintenance in 2016 and 2017: McArthur River (and the Key Lake mill) and Rabbit Lake in Canada, and the Crow Butte and Smith Ranch-Highland in-situ leach mines in the US. Plans to expand Crow Butte were abandoned in March 2019.
Instead, Cameco will continue to meet its contracts by purchasing uranium on the spot market. Delivering the company's third-quarter results (a small loss), chief executive Tim Gitzel said that only 9 million pounds of uranium oxide will be produced from its mines next year, with the remainder of its requirement of 30-32 million pounds supplied from spot market purchases.
Cameco's workforce in Canada has halved. Before the Fukushima disaster, the company employed more than 2,100 people in Saskatchewan. Since then, 810 mine and mill workers have been sacked, along with 219 head office employees in Saskatoon.
Traders and specialists say the uranium market is likely to remain depressed for years, Reuters reported in August 2019. Australian financial services company Hartleys doesn't expect a recovery until the second half of the 2020s.
Sellers are buying and buyers are selling: Cameco and some other producers are buying on the spot market while Japanese nuclear power companies have begun offloading unwanted inventories onto the global market. The Japanese sales so far have been small, but were made at values well below the purchase price and will likely further depress the uranium market according to two senior market specialists who spoke to Reuters. "Given the extended shutdown of our reactors, we are selling uranium as well as canceling long-term contracts where necessary," Japan Atomic told Reuters.
"Japanese inventory is a big overhang in the market," a US-based market specialist said. According to Reuters' calculations, Japan's nuclear companies are sitting on nuclear fuel inventories worth nearly 50% of the market value of the nine publicly-traded nuclear utilities.
TEPCO - operator of the Fukushima nuclear power plant before it was destroyed by meltdowns, fires and explosions in 2011 - cancelled a supply contract with Cameco in 2017, citing force majeure in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster. Cameco was awarded US$40.3 million in damages in July 2019 by the International Chamber of Commerce (a small fraction of the amount sought).
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