Japan to explore for uranium in Uzbekistan

By bne IntelliNews July 8, 2013

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Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (JOGMEC) is set to sign an agreement on the launch of a uranium mining project in Uzbekistan this week. Japan is keen to secure supplies of the fuel, as it starts to revive its nuclear power sector two years after the Fukushima disaster.

A delegation of Japanese officials led by Deputy Trade Minister Yukari Sato, and including JOGMEC representatives, arrived in Uzbekistan on July 7. During the visit, the company is expected to sign an agreement with the Uzbek State Committee on Geology and Mineral Resources to launch a joint exploration project with state-owned Navoi Mining and Metallurgical Combinat (NMMC).

The pair will work together on exploration within Uzbekistan over the next five years. If the results are positive, the Japanese state-owned company will try to obtain a mining concession, with production to supply the Japanese market and head for export to third countries.

Japan, which relies on imported uranium for nuclear power generation, was forced to reassess its use of nuclear energy in the wake of the Fukushima disaster in 2011. All 50 of the country's commercial reactors were closed, but the process of reviving the sector has now opened. Utilities on July 8 launched applications to the revamped Nuclear Regulation Authority for safety assessments on 10 reactors under tough new requirements. It is expected to take around six months to complete the checks.

Japan is looking to Central Asian countries - including Kazakhstan and Mongolia as well as Uzbekistan - to supply the uranium needed to fuel its nuclear power industry, The Japan Times notes. In 2011, NMMC signed a 10-year supply contract with Itochu Corporation, under which it will export up to 1,102 tonnes per year.

Japanese corporations already import uranium from Kazakhstan, the world's largest producer. Sumitomo and Toshiba both have joint ventures with state atomic energy company Kazatomprom.

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