TBY talks to Vladimir Shkolnik, President of Kazatomprom, on the company’s plans to be the world’s leading supplier of uranium and other rare earth metals.
TBY What is Kazatomprom’s vision in developing a more value-added chain in uranium and other rare earth materials production?
VLADIMIR SHKOLNIK Kazatomprom is successfully implementing the strategic objective of creating a vertically integrated company active at all levels of the nuclear fuel cycle to produce export-oriented products with the highest value-added. This we are seeking to accomplish through partnerships with leading companies operating in this field, which can bring their experience, expertise, and technology to the table to enhance Kazakhstan’s advancements toward its goal. First of all, we are striving to gain a foothold in all phases of the nuclear fuel cycle, and one of the priorities is the construction of nuclear power plants. Kazatomprom is pursuing this target through multiple mechanisms including an alliance with Toshiba and Westinghouse, close cooperation with AREVA, and the planned creation of an alliance with Russia’s Rosatom in the form of a joint uranium company.
There is also an agreement, once implemented, that will allow us to benefit from commercial services for uranium enrichment and the fabrication of fuel assemblies, which constitutes the final product in the nuclear industry. It should be noted that Kazatomprom, as a shareholder in the International Uranium Enrichment Center (IUEC) and Uranium Enrichment Center (UEC), gets access to Russian centrifuges, which are the most cost-effective technology for the separation of uranium isotopes, having become a part of the uranium enrichment market. We also intend to participate in the construction of nuclear power plants abroad, in particular directly through ventures with China.
The decision to build a conversion plant with Cameco will be finalized in 2012. By the end of 2011 we completed the creation of a joint venture with Rosatom to enrich uranium at its processing plant in Novouralsk. In 2009, during the official visit of France’s former president Sarkozy to Kazakhstan, we signed an agreement on establishing a joint company called IFASTAR. This agreement is yet another fruitful result of the structural and long-term ties Kazatomprom and AREVA enjoy, and for us it is another milestone in the creation of a vertically integrated company that manufactures products with the highest value-added. A feasibility study for the project is complete. In 2010 Kazatomprom launched new high-tech projects, particularly those involving the establishment of the country’s science-intensive industries for rare earth metals. In Spring 2010, Kazatomprom and Japan’s Sumitomo Corporation signed the founding documents for the Summit Atom Rare Earth Company (SARECO) in the field of rare earth materials. The purpose of this joint venture is to create a vertically integrated company for the production of rare earth products with high value-added. The company has also signed a protocol of intent on cooperation in the field of rare metals with Toshiba Corporation.
How do Kazatomprom’s industrial advancements, such as high-tech tantalum and beryllium production, fit into industrial diversification efforts?
Kazatomprom has advanced technology and extensive experience in the production of tantalum and beryllium products. Kazatomprom’s Ulba Metallurgical Plant has a complete production cycle from processing the raw materials to the finished products of beryllium, tantalum, and niobium. Currently, our Ulba plant satisfies about 12% of world demand in tantalum and niobium and about one-third of the world’s demand for beryllium. We are going to manufacture high value-added end-products for the needs of the electronics, aerospace, and automotive industries. We are particularly looking to establish the production of superconducting materials for magnets. Now, we are working on a modernization program for our current production cycles.
What business opportunities do you see for local and foreign investors in uranium and other rare-earth element production-related fields?
Kazatomprom is interested in partners and co-investors that will bring their strength to the world uranium market and that will move us to the further stages of the nuclear fuel cycle, in which Kazakhstan is not yet present, such as conversion, enrichment, and the fabrication of fuel assemblies. We are ready to cooperate with the suppliers and consumers of uranium. However, to participate in the development of mineral resources of Kazakhstan, foreign partners must provide our country access to new markets and technologies, comparable to the projects’ economic parameters. The company already is working under these terms.
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