The Uranium Bull Market Keeps Getting More Bullish financial articles
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The Uranium Bull Market Keeps Getting More Bullish

By James Finch

editor[at]stockinterview.com
http://www.stockinterview.com

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China Demand for Uranium, World Growth in Electricity Demand to Drive Uranium Price Higher.

Industry expert says all new production already factored in uranium price “We are consuming far more uranium than we are producing worldwide,” explained David Miller, Wyoming legislator and recently appointed president of Strathmore Resources (TSX-V: STM; OTC: STHJF.PK). “All the new production is already factored into the future market for uranium. We’re underwater right now without building one more nuclear power plant.” Nuclear reactor requirements have far outstripped current mining production for the past two decades. Current worldwide production is more than 80 million pounds, but the demand for uranium, which fuels nuclear reactors, is running an annual deficit of approximately 60 million pounds.

Electricity: Uranium’s Supply and Demand Problem

“We’re not going to run out of uranium, but where will the price go to encourage new production?” asked David Miller. “We are around over $33/pound now. Could it double again? It wouldn’t surprise me at all.” Kevin Bambrough, a research analyst for Sprott Asset Management, heartily agreed with Mr. Miller, saying, “We have just started a long term uranium bull market that will end in a ‘uranium mania’ as utilities and countries drive uranium prices to unbelievable highs as they compete to secure supplies."

That driving force is demand for more electricity. Over the past 25 years, total world energy use expanded by almost 50 percent, with stronger growth in electricity usage. Demand for electricity is increasing far more rapidly than overall energy use. Electricity demand has been projected to grow 2.8 percent annually through 2010, and substantially more between then and 2020. About 2 billion people currently have no electricity access, and with United Nations forecasts of world population growth by 1.5 billion people in 2020, electricity demand will continue to grow.

As an interim solution to the greenhouse gas problem and climate changes, a growing number of countries are investigating nuclear energy to solve their burden of a soaring electrical demand. Presently, there is as much electricity generated by nuclear power as was provided by all sources worldwide in 1960.

Nuclear power generates more than 16 percent of the world’s electricity, nearly 24 percent of the OECD and 34 percent of the European Union’s electricity needs. In an April 2005 speech to the National Small Business Conference in Washington, President Bush announced, “Nuclear power is now providing about 20 percent of America's electricity, with no air pollution or greenhouse gas emissions. Nuclear power is one of the safest, cleanest sources of power in the world, and we need more of it here in America.”

Demand for electricity is projected to impact other commodities as well, not just the price of uranium. In the Energy Information Agency’s Annual Energy Outlook 2005, U.S. electricity demand will bring about increases in natural gas consumption. By 2025, the electric power sector will account for 31 percent of total demand for natural gas, as consumption increases from 5.0 trillion cubic feet in 2003 to 9.4 trillion cubic feet in 2025.

China’s Demand May Be Greater Than Anticipated

Today, 441 nuclear power reactors in 31 countries provide more than 16 percent of the world’s electricity. In 2003, that was 2525 billion kilowatt hours. Eleven countries are constructing thirty more reactors, mainly in China, but also in Russia, Japan and Korea. The International Atomic Energy Agency has projected at least 60 new power plants will be constructed over the next 15 years. By 2020, nuclear power’s electricity production share will increase to 17 percent.

“China is the future wild card,” said Miller. “Their current uranium demand is miniscule. They have a small nuclear industry. They may have three or four thousand megawatts of capacity. Their uranium demand is only about 4 or 5 million pounds per year. They meet that internally from their own uranium deposits. But what they are planning for nuclear is probably the most aggressive program in the world. I visited China in 2003 to teach ISL (in situ leaching) uranium geology and ISL mining techniques to a couple of institutes. At that time, they were talking about building two new nuclear power plants per year for the next 20 years.”

But as Miller observed, they may have more ambitious plans. He added, “Since then, I have heard of more aggressive programs. One article I read recently was entitled, Let 1000 Reactors Bloom. That is more than 200 percent of the nuclear reactors we now have on earth. I believe that is what the Chinese will be doing in the next 40 – 50 years, converting nearly 100 percent of their electrical generation from nuclear power.” Currently, China is generating less than three percent of their electricity from nuclear energy.

Miller speculates of how this might impact the price of uranium, “If they are building nearly three times the world fleet in just China, then that would be about 500 million pounds of uranium demand from China in fifty years. Other companies are announcing new nuclear power plants.” What does that mean for the price of uranium? Miller concluded, “So, the demand for uranium is going up. I think the growth in demand will be more rapid than we realize.”

Uranium Mining: A Slow Process

David Miller, who was previously interviewed by StockInterview.com in June 2004, reflected on last year’s forecast, “I thought $30/pound was sufficiently high to encourage enough new production around the world.” But there are major issues with supplying the increasing appetite of the burgeoning nuclear power industry. Miller warned, “The problem with encouraging new production is you don’t turn these things on and off. The only uranium, coming onto the market in addition to what’s already planned right now, will come from the already-discovered deposits.”

Two years from now, Miller thinks the spot price of uranium could double again. “There are going to be a lot of people trying to put uranium mines into production, but it is not an easy process.” Permitting requirements in countries where most uranium is mined are roughly comparable. “If you haven’t done any work, after a discovery, it still will take about four to six years to mine in any of those areas.”

In early 2004, there were probably less than twenty uranium producers and exploration companies. Since then, the number of uranium exploration companies has jumped to more than 200. Miller warns investors that it could take up to 12 years for a grass roots project to begin mining yellowcake. Miller explained, “Starting, finding, permitting and mining a project is probably going to take a minimum of 12 to 20 years. From the start of the exploration program to defining the ore body, after you make a discovery, to starting the background and permitting process, to development and then finally mining – it’s going to take a long time.”

Through 2005, many uranium exploration companies announced new projects throughout Canada and the United States. Miller did not see how their efforts would immediately alleviate the uranium supply crunch, “If you are talking about any of those, such as in Labrador or the Yukon or in the basins outside the Athabasca Basin, or even within the Basin, for those that are just now doing their first exploration, you are talking the year 2020 before those could come online and supply uranium to the world market.”

But, what about the world’s richest concentrations of uranium in Canada’s Athabasca Basin? Will they help stem the rising uranium price? In a nutshell, Miller says no. He explained, “The next one to come online is Cigar Lake, but it was discovered over 20 years ago. There is another one called Shea Creek, which was discovered by Cogema more than a dozen years ago.” Could they start the permitting process on that one in the near future? “Absolutely,” Miller responded. “But it might be close to 2015 before it could bring any uranium to the world market.”

The future largest producing uranium mine in the world is likely to be Olympic Dam in Australia. It’s basically a copper mine with uranium grades. On October 27th Hong Kong-based institutional advisor Marc Faber, and author The Gloom, Boom and Doom Report, told Dow Jones newswire that he thought copper prices would fall by as much as 40 percent. (Note: Marc Faber also said, “I’d be a physical buyer of uranium.”) “What happens when copper is $0.50/pound? What will be their cost of producing that uranium?” asked Dave Miller. “Olympic Dam is low grade uranium, less than 0.05 percent U308. Their cost to operate the uranium portion of that will go up, if copper prices go down.”

Where else do utilities turn for their growing uranium needs?
David Miller argues that some of that uranium production is likely to come from the smaller, but well-capitalized, companies, such as Strathmore Minerals. “Our strategy from day one, and we haven’t veered from this at all, has been to acquire as many known uranium deposits as we possibly could,” explained Miller. “We started early in this uranium cycle in 2003. We were out there before 95 percent of these other uranium companies even thought of starting uranium companies. We were able to pick up some very good deposits in New Mexico and Wyoming. These are known, drilled-out uranium deposits in the country that’s produced as much as uranium anywhere else on earth. We’ve taken all that exploration information, where they discovered these old deposits, and have acquired a number of those old deposits. Now, we have opened a permitting office in New Mexico and starting the permitting process to put those into production, somewhere down the road. It’s a long process and all kinds of studies must be done to get these fully permitted and into production.”

But there is a second part to the Strathmore Minerals strategy. Miller announced, “Don’t ignore the richest uranium province on earth, which is the Athabasca Basin in Canada. Strathmore is the Number One landholder in the Athabasca Basin, controlling approximately 3 million acres in Canada. We have dozen different individual projects there. We are starting the exploration process on all of those."

The case with Cameco (NYSE: CCJ), the blue chip publicly traded uranium producer, may also help fuel uranium prices rally to higher levels. They have forward sold their production. Added Miller, “I would bet their average sales price, under contract right now, of the 20+ million pounds they deliver every year is somewhere in the low teens – maybe $13/pound plus/minus $1-2. As these contracts mature, and bring on new contracts, that price is going to keep going up. They should keep going up for the next five years.”

The Case for Nuclear Energy

As electricity demand grows by leaps and bounds during the 21st century, many of the world’s governments are seriously considering nuclear energy as a safer alternative to coal-fired plants. As many study the safety issues of nuclear-powered electricity, they tend to conclude that nuclear energy may very well provide a healthier, as well as a less expensive, alternative to present power generation methods.

Miller pointed out, “In the 1970s, when the anti-nuclear movement was very strong, the U.S. was then mining and burning 600 million tons of coal each year. And now, thirty years later, because the anti-nuclear industry was successful, we are burning 1 billion tons of coal per year.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. air pollution in 1999, as a result of energy from coal, emitted more than 13 million tons of sulfur oxides and nearly 5.5 million tons of nitrous oxides. In a Harvard School of Public Health study, as many as 70,000 Americans are dying each year as a result of air pollution. From sulfur dioxide alone, Harvard estimated that 2400 Americans die for every million tons of sulfur dioxide emitted, or more than 30,000 American deaths annually.

But, air pollution is far worse elsewhere. “The pollution levels in China – from Shanghai to Beijing – are shocking,” said Miller. “Emphysema kills 5,000 people per year in the coal mines. They need nuclear power, probably more than any area on earth, to clean up their air.”


About the Author: James Finch regularly contributes to StockInterview.com, which is found at http://www.stockinterview.com

Source: www.isnare.com

 

 






Published - December 2005

 











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