It is final, the exploitation of the Cominak mine; north of Niger; ends today because its reserves are depleted. A closure that takes place in a global context that is characterized by still very low prices, which undermines the mine’s profitability. But China is expected to revive the market in the coming years.
After 40 years of service and 80,000 tonnes of uranium produced, Cominak is withdrawing. Resources are depleted and exploitation is no longer possible, both technically and financially. The legacy of Niger – the continent’s second largest uranium producer after Namibia – should have been taken by another mine, the Imourar, 160 km north of Agadez. A promising place with reserves estimated at 174,000 tons according to the French giant Orano, holder of an operating license.
But the actual launch of the mine has been postponed for the time being given the international context: the extraction costs are really higher than the ore price in the market. Site investigations are planned for next year to see if innovative mining techniques can be used to make the project more economically profitable.
Prices struggling to rise
In the uranium market, time is still low. Since the Fukushima disaster, prices have fallen and ten years later “demand for uranium is still lower than it was before the accident” adds a nuclear expert. Inventories are otherwise very good, says another analyst, which has not contributed to raising prices.
Since the spring of 2020, however, prices have risen slowly. Combined results of the closure of two mines in Canada – Cigar Lake due to the pandemic and Mac Arthurs since 2018 – and Chinese demand.
China, the leading consumer of uranium 2030?
If global demand is now American and European, the driving forces in this sector will also be China: to implement its 2060 carbon dioxide neutrality plan, it will rely on nuclear power. By 2030, if its agenda is met, it would become the leading market for uranium. According to the World Nuclear Association (WNA), this growth in the Chinese reactor fleet in connection with the gradual restart of Japanese reactors is expected to increase uranium demand by 17% in 2025 compared to 2015.
Prices should gradually follow the increased needs. Investors are apparently already positioning themselves for physical purchases of fuel while waiting for a recovery. Knowing that uranium, due to its density, has the advantage that it can be stored very easily.