Short but ominous note from the world’s largest uranium-producing nation this week. Suggesting that some unpleasant surprises could be coming for the mining sector here.
The place is Kazakhstan. Where the country’s president said the government may be about to take some drastic action against foreign operators in the uranium industry.
Speaking at a meeting with national uranium miner Kazatomprom, President Nursultan Nazarbayev said that Kazakhstan may soon look to “reclaim” some assets from mining companies. With the president saying that the action is necessary because firms are “not meeting their obligations” when it comes to mine development.
As Nazarbayev put it, “In this regard it is necessary to either ensure that they meet their obligations or look into reclaiming those assets in the interests of our state.”
That’s a serious warning from the government. Especially given that Kazakhstan’s uranium sector has attracted considerable foreign investment over the last several years — including from Areva, Cameco, and Sumitomo, as well as Russian and Chinese developers.
The government didn’t elaborate as to which of these project holders are not pulling their weight. But the warning suggests all of these companies could see their ventures come under scrutiny, if they’re seen to be advancing too slowly.
There was also little detail as to what exact issues the government has taken with project developments. Which makes the situation all the more concerning, raising the possibility that any number of nitpickings could be used to justify stripping projects.
It’s even possible that this whole argument could simply be a pretext for re-enforcing greater state control of the mining sector. Or a means of clawing back choice assets in order to award them to more politically-palatable partners.
Of course, it’s also possible this is just sabre-rattling to spur miners into greater productivity. But the tough words make this an issue all observers in the uranium space need to be paying attention to. Watch for more announcements from the Kazakhs.