Areva-Kazakh uranium JV to complete expansion in 2012

June 21. Reuters. ALMATY

By Robin Paxton

* Joint venture between Areva and Kazatomprom
* Annual uranium output to hit 4,000 tonnes from 2012
* 2011 output forecast at 3,500 tonnes

Areva-Kazakh uranium JV to complete expansion in 2012French nuclear group Areva’s (AREVA.PA: Quote) joint venture in Kazakhstan plans next year to complete an expansion that will take annual uranium production to 4,000 tonnes, the head of the joint venture said on Tuesday.

KATCO, owned 51 percent by Areva and 49 percent by Kazakh state nuclear company Kazatomprom, expects to increase uranium output to 3,500 tonnes this year from 3,354 tonnes in 2010, General Director Konrad Schauer told a mining conference.

He said KATCO, which produced 6.25 percent of the world’s uranium in 2010, should be producing 4,000 tonnes annually from its mines in South Kazakhstan from 2012, the culmination of a $550 million investment programme since operations began.

Kazakhstan overtook Canada in 2009 as the world’s largest uranium miner. Last year, the Central Asian country produced 17,803 tonnes of the metal, or one-third of global production.

“We will continue to contribute to the overall goal of Kazakhstan being number one,” Schauer told the conference.

KATCO’s two mines, Tortkuduk and Muyunkum, use the in-situ leaching process, drilling holes to recover uranium in an acid solution without the need to dig mine shafts or pits.

Schauer said that mining 4,000 tonnes of uranium would require annual sulphuric acid consumption of 200,000 tonnes.

He said the joint venture employed more than 1,200 people and contributed $90 million in taxes to the state budget every year, making it one of Kazakhstan’s top 300 taxpayers.

KATCO launched pilot production at Muyunkum in 2001 and began industrial production in 2004. This year, it produced its 10,000-th tonne of uranium.