China's CNNC seeking overseas partners to secure uranium: executive

(The story corrects figure of Chinese uranium demand in 2025 in fourth paragraph.)

FILE PHOTO: A booth of China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) is pictured at an exhibition in Beijing, China July 18, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - China National Nuclear Corp (CNNC) is looking to invest in overseas uranium mines to secure supply for an expected ramp-up in China’s nuclear power generation, a senior company executive said on Wednesday.

China and Japan have been ramping up nuclear power as an alternative to fossil fuels, and rising demand could pull uranium out of a years-long slump that has seen a swathe of projects put on care and maintenance in recent years.

“Our vision is to be the world’s leading uranium company,” Ni Tao, deputy manager of China National Uranium Co Ltd, said at the IMARC mining conference in Melbourne.

China’s uranium demand is expected to grow to around 10,800 tonnes by 2020, rising to 16,300-18,500 tonnes by 2025, Ni said in a presentation. CNNC is set to account for 4,800 tonnes by 2020.

“We are open to taking a minority stake in a partnership or to taking a whole company,” he told Reuters later on the sidelines of the conference.

Total global demand for uranium last year stood at around 64,000 tonnes.

As of August, China had 42 gigawatts (GW) of nuclear power, and another 16 gigawatts under construction, according to CNNC data. It is expected to have around 58 GW in 2020, according to a slide in a presentation.

But while new projects are still coming on line, Beijing’s reactor building program has slowed considerably in the wake of Japan’s Fukushima disaster.

China has not given the go-ahead for any new conventional nuclear projects for three years, and will need to speed up the approval process if it is to meet a target to have at least 30 GW of new capacity under construction by the end of the decade.

CNNC’s overseas investments include the Azelik uranium mine in Niger which was put on care and maintenance in 2015 and a minority stake in a Namibian mine with ASX-listed Paladin Energy, which was put on ice in August.

It has other projects in Namibia, Zimbabwe and Mongolia. However, it has so far been unable to find a site for a crucial spent fuel processing plant, with previous plans to build a 15 billion yuan ($2.15 billion) facility in eastern China cancelled in 2016 after public protests.

CNNC took over the country’s top nuclear power plant builder China Nuclear Engineering & Construction (CNEC) earlier this year to create a company worth almost $100 billion, the latest state-orchestrated marriage in the nation’s vast power sector.

Reporting by Melanie Burton; additional reporting by David Stanway in SHANGHAI; editing by Richard Pullin