Aussie small caps celebrate Trump decision on uranium, call it a ‘new dawn’ for investment
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ASX-listed uranium players are pretty happy with US President Donald Trump’s decision not to restrict the country’s uranium imports.
Investors were also pretty bullish, with nearly half of the ASX-listed players with uranium projects advancing between 1 per cent and 25 per cent on Monday.
The investigation was sparked by two domestic companies calling for limits on the amount of uranium that US nuclear plants sourced from overseas, citing national security concerns.
The US currently imports about 93 per cent of its commercial uranium.
But being a “businessman”, President Trump is looking at the bigger picture.
He revealed that a working group would now be formed to take a look at the whole nuclear fuel cycle, not just uranium imports.
“Trump’s a businessman. People forget that,” Mike Young, head of junior uranium explorer Vimy Resources (ASX:VMY), told Stockhead.
“Right now in the States they don’t have any domestic US-owned capacity in the backend of the nuclear fuel cycle.
“Enrichment technology in particular in the States is owned by foreign companies. Trump said, ‘yes there’s a national security issue, but it’s the whole nuclear fuel chain’.”
The two big US-based uranium miners that pushed for the investigation — Ur-Energy and Energy Fuels — wanted the requirement to be at least 25 per cent, but there was some talk that quotas could start off at a much more conservative 5 per cent, increasing by 5 percentage points each year after that.
“At this time, I do not concur with the Secretary’s finding that uranium imports threaten to impair the national security of the United States as defined under section 232 of the Act,” he said in a memorandum late Friday.
“[But] I agree with the Secretary that the US uranium industry faces significant challenges in producing uranium domestically and that this is an issue of national security.”
Young, like other Aussie uranium bosses (see what they had to say below), reckons Trump made the right call.
“It’s a better outcome than I certainly expected,” he said.
“I was expecting some quotas. This is a very good outcome because there’s no quotas, no tariffs, but a working group is going to look at the entire industry.
“I’m not sure if it’s part of the terms of reference, but I’m hoping that as we’re seeing in the world today with the rhetoric about climate catastrophe, the US suddenly realises that 20 per cent of their electricity is nuclear and that they will lose their reactors if the industry doesn’t revive itself.”
The US is a big focus for Vimy, which is one of only three companies that have been allowed to go ahead with the development of their uranium mines in Western Australia.
The company is advancing its Mulga Rock project in Western Australia towards production. The mine is expected to produce 47.1 million pounds of uranium over 15 years.
“The US is 30 per cent of the entire global uranium market,” Young said.
“They’ve got 98 reactors operating at the moment, so they’re a pretty important part of our forward plans.”
A fair chunk of the US’ uranium comes from Canada, but Australia is a major source, according to the World Nuclear Association.
In 2017, Australia produced 6,937 tonnes of U3O8 and is the world’s third-ranking producer, behind Kazakhstan and Canada.
Uranium makes up about a quarter of Australia’s energy exports.
With the 18-month Section 232 investigation now at an end, US utilities will be chomping at the bit to lock in more uranium supply.
Young said Vimy had maintained a “very strong relationship” with the various utilities during the investigation.
“In their words they were frozen,” he said.
“So now that they’re unfrozen, there’s a nice lovely spring thaw, they can start writing contracts and they will because they’ve used up 18 months of their supply.
“There’s a very big jump in the uncovered positions of the American utilities in the years 2021 to 2022.
“It jumps from about 30 per cent uncovered to 60 per cent uncovered. So I expect there’ll be a lot of contracting activity moving forward.”
The boss of Bannerman Resources (ASX:BMN), Brandon Munro, tweeted over the weekend that it was a “new dawn in the uranium investment cycle”.
A new dawn in the Uranium investment cycle! After 18 months of suppressed market activity, the s232 decision is No Trade Action. Even better, a US Nuclear Fuel Working Group to be established. In the context of recent #nuclear policy, expect further positive outcomes for #uranium pic.twitter.com/6pdgc4Jk3Y
— Brandon Munro (@brandon_munro) July 13, 2019
He elaborated further in an ASX announcement on Monday saying: “We welcome the strong and decisive resolution of the section 232 trade investigation, which has been a distraction to the uranium sector for 18 months.
“This no trade action outcome maintains open access to the US uranium market and is particularly positive for non‐US uranium companies.”
Bannerman has a 95 per cent stake in the Etango uranium project in Namibia. The company says it is one of the world’s largest undeveloped uranium projects.
When in operation, Etango is expected to produce 7-9 million pounds of uranium each year for the first five years and 6-8 million pounds each year after that, for an initial 16 years.
Boss Resources (ASX:BOE), meanwhile, is progressing the restart of its Honeymoon mine in South Australia. Honeymoon is one of only four Australian mining operations of scale to have a uranium export permit.
“Boss is in a very good position to respond as US utilities come back to the market,” managing director Duncan Craib told investors.
“We have solid relationships with a variety of US utilities with whom we have been discussing off-take contracts.
“Australia has been a long-term reliable and important supplier of uranium to the US and this decision will see this continue, underpinning project development in Australia as well as providing foreign investment.”
Over in the US, there are three ASX-listed miners – Peninsula Energy (ASX:PEN), Laramide Resources (ASX:LAM) and newcomer GTI Resources (ASX:GTR).
Peninsula is also one of only three companies in the US actually producing uranium.
Managing director Wayne Heili said while Peninsula recognised that there would have been benefits for US uranium projects if some of the Section 232 petition recommendations were implemented, the company believed the presidential action would put an end to the market uncertainty.
“This is positive for the uranium market as a whole as we now expect market activity to increase,” he said.
Heili expects the establishment of a nuclear fuel cycle working group to be particularly beneficial for Peninsula because it could lead to enhanced project economics at Lance.
Peninsula has been working to improve the cost effectiveness and productivity of the Lance project as it prepares to transition from an alkaline based solution to a low pH solution.
Paladin Energy (ASX:PDN) was another junior to welcome the decision, saying it was expected to be good news for the company and other non-US producers.
“Since the petition was lodged early last year, we have seen a reluctance by both US utilities and non-US utilities to enter into long-term off-take agreements with producers and instead they have drawn down their inventories, which has contributed to suppressed uranium prices,” CEO Scott Sullivan said.
“Now that we have President Trump’s decision on the petition and have finally removed the uncertainty that has prevailed in the market, we expect a normalisation of the term market to follow and strengthening prices moving forward.”
Paladin’s Langer Heinrich uranium mine in Namibia was placed on care and maintenance in August last year due to the continued low uranium spot price.
In February, the company started a two-stage pre-feasibility study on the potential restart of the mine after a concept study identified multiple options to reduce operating costs, improve uranium process reliability and potentially recover a saleable vanadium product.
The first stage of the PFS, which is focused on a rapid restart strategy, is expected to be completed in September.