* Just one of 54 reactors online in Japan, restart plan
* Cameco says Japanese utilities not selling excess uranium
* Japanese partners still committed to mine development
* Sees some reactors restarting in near future
* Cameco eyeing "near-production" takeover targets in U.S.
By Julie Gordon
March 26 Japan, which has taken all but one of
its 54 nuclear reactors offline in the wake of the Fukushima
disaster, has not indicated that it is planning a permanent
shift away from atomic power, said the head of Cameco Corp
Cameco, a top global uranium producer, has offered to buy
excess material from Japanese utilities, but they are not
selling, said Chief Executive Tim Gitzel, speaking at the
Reuters Mining and Steel Summit from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
That has Cameco confident that Japan will bring at least a
portion of its reactor fleet back online in the near future.
"I think over the next months we'll start to see some
reactors come back on," said Gitzel. "It will be a slow process,
but eventually they'll bring those back on."
While a few utilities have asked to defer deliveries over
the last year, none have moved to reduce their inventories, he
added, noting that Cameco's Japanese partners remain committed
to developing new mines.
"We're partners with some of the Japanese utilities in some
mining projects," said Gitzel. "We've talked to them about
whether they're staying in the game and indeed they are staying
in. They're continuing to invest in exploration."
"I think that's positive news for the Japanese fleet going
forward," he added.
On Monday, Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) shut
down its last operating nuclear reactor for planned maintenance,
leaving just one reactor online in all of Japan to supply the
nation's creaking power sector.
Tepco holds a 5 percent stake in Cameco's Cigar Lake project
in Saskatchewan, while Idemitsu Kosan Co Ltd has an 8
percent stake in the uranium mine, set to start up in late 2013.
Cameco is also partnered with Japan's Mitsubishi Corp
to develop the Kintyre uranium project in Australia.
Japan's final operating reactor is scheduled to shut down in
May and the timeline for restarts remains unclear. Stress test
results are currently being reviewed by the country's nuclear
regulator; then the government will need to green-light restarts
based on public and political support.
Despite the lingering uncertainty, Cameco sees strong
uranium growth going forward as China, India, Russia and Korea
push ahead with aggressive nuclear build-outs.
For its part, China should have some 40 reactors online by
2015 and another 20 or 30 in operation by 2020, said Gitzel.
"We see the long term fundamentals of the business as very
strong," he said. "We see 96 net new reactors by 2021. That's
the best growth we've seen in the business since the 1970s."
With 104 reactors, the United States is the largest consumer
of uranium in the world and Cameco is the top uranium producer
in the country, producing some 2.2 million pounds in 2011 from
its mines in Wyoming and Nebraska.
"We're in a good space down in the United States and we
think it's an important place for us to be," said Gitzel. "Our
estimate for the U.S. is four to six new reactors by 2020."
That has the company eyeing more output in the United
States, despite the often "laborious" permitting environment.
Cameco, which is expanding its Smith Ranch-Highland project
in Wyoming, hopes to boost U.S. production to 4 million pounds a
year. The company also plans to bring the idle Highland mill
That would give Cameco additional processing capacity, and
that has the Canadian miner on the lookout for potential
takeovers, especially those with late development-stage assets.
"We would be looking in the area to see if there are any
projects that are, I would say, near production," said Gitzel.
"Projects that could fit in with ours and could bring uranium to
our existing facilities in the near term."
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