Uzbekistan, China eye joint uranium exploration

Uzbekistan, China eye joint uranium exploration
President Shavkat Mirziyoyev issued a resolution in July 2022 setting a national uranium production target of 7,100 tonnes by 2030, up from around 3,500 tonnes in 2021. / Navoiuran
By Eurasianet March 14, 2024

A state-owned uranium producer in Uzbekistan is in talks with China Nuclear Uranium, also state-run, on the possibility of working together to develop a pair of mines.

Navoiuran said in a statement on March 12 that the black shale uranium deposits under consideration — Jantuar and Madanli — are both in Uzbekistan’s Navoi region. Black shale uranium refers to uranium deposits found within black shale rock formations.

Navoiuran has been operating since 2022, when it was hived off from the Navoi Mining and Metallurgical Plant.

The tie-up with China Nuclear Uranium is part of a broader agenda promoted by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who issued a resolution in July 2022 setting a national uranium production target of 7,100 tonnes by 2030, up from around 3,500 tonnes in 2021.

In seeking to hit that target, the government has actively solicited international partners.

In November, Mirziyoyev’s office reported that Uzbekistan was looking to expand its partnership with France’s state-run Orano, which deals with the entire cycle of uranium from mining to fuel production. The French company has been present in Uzbekistan since 2019. That same year it set up a joint venture called Nurlikum Mining.

“Deep processing of strategic raw materials and the production of industrial products based on advanced technologies are an important area for cooperation,” the president’s office said in its statement at the time.

That announcement was timed to coincide with a visit to Uzbekistan by French President Emmanuel Macron.

There will be a strong component of quid pro quo in any such cooperation. Ahead of Macron’s visit, energy analysts suggested that France might see Uzbekistan, as well as neighbouring Kazakhstan, as strong alternative sources for the uranium that it needs to keep its vital nuclear power sector running.

Uzbek Mining and Geology Minister Bobir Islamov later in the same month announced that Orano had pledged to invest up to $500mn in uranium mining in Uzbekistan.

“A strategic agreement stipulates that [Orano] will carry out geological exploration work at two additional sites [in the Tamdyn district of the Navoi region]. Everything will, of course, be decided by a feasibility study, but everything is going very positively at the moment,” Islamov was quoted as saying by

Uzbekistan hopes that Kazakhstan, currently the world’s largest producer of uranium, can help its cause too.

In late February, Aigul Kuspan, who chairs the International Affairs, Defence and Security Committee in the lower house of parliament in Kazakhstan, told her colleagues that Uzbekistan had expressed interest in jointly mining and processing uranium in areas along the shared border.

An initial memorandum of understanding on cooperation in the uranium sector was signed between China Nuclear Uranium and Navoiuran just a matter of days after Macron’s visit. That agreement was sealed on the sidelines of the first-ever International Forum on Natural Uranium Industry, held in Beijing.

Aside from wishing to bolster its standing among the world’s largest producers of uranium, Uzbekistan is also exploring the option of installing its own nuclear power plant and is accordingly tentatively exploring potential suitors, including companies in France and Russia.

This article first appeared on Eurasianet here.