As I’ve discussed before, the uranium market is one of the most unusual commodity sectors on the planet.
In terms of supply, there’s one place that’s head-and-shoulders above all others: the Athabasca Basin of northern Canada. With uranium mines here running at grades up to 100 times greater than deposits in most other parts of the world.
And with uranium prices down, Athabasca has become all the more critical for supply. Being one of the few places on the planet where producers are still making money–and continuing to turn out production.
But news this week suggests that problems of a different kind could be brewing here. Labor issues.
Local news sources report that workers at the major McArthur River mine and Key Lake processing facilities may be preparing to strike. With the move coming after the United Steelworkers Union‘s collective agreement with mine operator Cameco expired in December 2013.
Talks since have apparently been unsuccessful in arriving at a new labor deal. And negotiations between Cameco and the workers are now set to conclude on August 28–with the union reportedly having authorized a full strike for its 540 members here if an agreement is not reached by that date.
Such a stoppage could be one of the biggest events to hit uranium supply for a long time. The McArthur River mine alone puts out up to 18 million pounds of uranium each year–equating to nearly 15% of current global supply.
The facility has never seen a strike before, so it’s uncertain exactly what the impact on production might be. But Cameco itself has acknowledged a possible knock on output, noting that “there is risk to production if we are unable to reach an agreement and work stoppage occurs.”
Of course the two sides still have two weeks to work out an agreement and avert the strike. But if such a solution fails to emerge, things could get a lot tighter in uranium, very quickly.