Gaining U.S. support and changing G8 policy are next steps
With all the attention being paid to Areva's plans for a new, $2 billion uranium enrichment plant in the U.S., the question becomes, how much uranium enrichment capacity is needed in North America? The answer is "more than you think." Where will it come from? The answer is maybe Saskatchewan.
Assuming that all U.S. three plants now under construction or on the drawing board go into production by 2012, their output will still leave at least 25% of U.S. and Canadian requirements for enriched uranium unmet and fulfilled by imports. The other two plants are the National Enrichment Facility which is being built in New Mexico by Louisiana Energy Services (LES) and the American Centrifuge plant being built in Ohio by the United States Enrichment Corp. (USEC)
So who else might enter the North American market? The unsurprising answer is Canada which according to various sources produces a quarter of the world's uranium from its mines. The province of Saskatchewan is doing more than just thinking about getting into the uranium enrichment business according to statements made by the provincial leader Brad Wall last week.
He said the province, the world's leading uranium producer, would benefit from adding value to the natural resource. Wall said he has already talked to the federal government about getting Canada included on the G8's list of countries that are allowed to enrich uranium.
Wall, who was visiting Washington, DC, to discuss his plans with U.S. counterparts, told the Wall Street Journal, "We're the Saudi Arabia of uranium. It is in our mutual interest for Canada to become a reliable supplier of uranium fuel to the U.S." He made a pitch to Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman, who is the lead policy advisor to President Bush on uranium enrichment matters.
Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association told the WSJ that the Group of Eight (G8) countries have agreed not to allow a new uranium enrichment efforts. Canada is a member of the G8. Wall told the WSJ he will push to overturn the ban. Kimball says this may open the door for other countries to follow Canada's lead, and it undercuts western pressure on Iran's uranium enrichment efforts.
Saskatchewan economist Joel Bruneau told the CBC getting the G8's permission should not be difficult as long as the end product is only used for peaceful purposes. A much bigger obstacle would be political and public opposition. Canada has long promoted itself as being outside the nuclear club despite its massive uranium mining operations.
Wall also got in another shot of business speak to the WSJ. He said, "It makes perfect sense for Canada to move up the value chain." In a response to nonproliferation groups who immediately objected to his aspirations, Wall said, "if it is ethical for others to refine and enrich, then it is ethical for us to do it."
Last year when the Canadian government joined the GNEP program there was a brief political uproar about it due in part because it opened the door to uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing. Given the country's market share in the global uranium market, the only real questions was not whether, but when Canada would become part of the nuclear fuel consortium.
No story about nuclear energy in western Canada would be complete without a reference to the use of process heat and electricity from a reactor in the Alberta tar sands. Wall told the WSJ he also has ambitions to build a nuclear reactor in his province for these purposes.
For the past century the wheat field has been the de facto symbol of the province. If Wall's plan goes through, they may have to add the symbol for uranium to the state seal.