Uranium Trade - Current Issues
(last updated 6 Dec 2014)
> see also:
Goldman Sachs will wind down its small uranium trading business after failing to find a buyer and may sell its Colombian coal mine subsidiary, two of its most controversial commodity divisions, according to a Senate report released on Wednesday (Nov. 19).
It included a lengthy summary of Goldman's activities in the niche uranium market, which began when it bought Nufcor from Constellation Energy Group in 2009. Goldman and Deutsche Bank had been the only big banks active in the market.
In prepared remarks ahead of a Senate hearing on Thursday, co-head of Goldman Sachs' Commodities Trading Gregory Agran said the uranium business had posed no environmental risks and the bank never took physical possession of the material.
"Notwithstanding these various considerations, given the misconceptions about this business, we have decided to manage down Nufcor's assets to zero," he will tell the committee.
Due to long-term supply contracts, Goldman will continue selling uranium to one power plant until 2018, according to the Senate report.
Goldman and Deutsche entered the uranium market in 2009, when tightening supplies threatened to send prices soaring before the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. The two would grow to handle almost a third of all uranium trades in the spot market, according to sources.
Goldman's trading of yellowcake, enriched [?!? - means concentrated] uranium ore known as U3O8, rose tenfold from 2009 to reach 12.8 million pounds [4,923 t U] in 2013, according to the report. The value of its uranium inventories topped $240 million.
(Reuters Nov. 19, 2014 - emphasis added)
> Download: Wall Street Bank Involvement With Physical Commodities , U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, Nov. 19, 2014 (4MB PDF)
> Download: Gregory A. Agran testimony (Co-Head of Global Commodities Group, Goldman Sachs & Co.), Nov. 20, 2014 (17k PDF)
The senate report presents some interesting insights into Goldman's uranium business:
"When asked to summarize its physical uranium activities, Goldman described them as buying uranium from mining companies, storing it, and providing the uranium to utilities when they wanted to process more fuel for their nuclear power plants. Goldman indicated that it was, essentially, financing the storage of the uranium until its buyers were ready to purchase it.
The inventories were stored in the form of U3O8 at the conversion plants of ConverDyn in [Metropolis] Illinois, Cameco in [Blind River, Ontario] Canada, and Comurhex in [Malvési] France, and, in the form of unenriched UF6 at the enrichment plants of Urenco in [Lea County] New Mexico and in [Almelo] the Netherlands, and Eurodif in [Tricastin] France.
Goldman said that it hedged its physical positions primarily by selling the physical supply
through forward contracts. At the same time Goldman acted as a supplier for the utilities, it
was also speculating on uranium prices by trading uranium futures and other financial products." (p.132 - emphasis added)
Goldman was not involved with the transport of uranium (but how did the uranium get to those storage sites then?), nor with trading enriched uranium.
The report identified a number of "Issues Raised by Goldman's Physical Uranium Activities":
"Goldman's uranium-related activities, which are expected to continue until at least 2018, raise multiple concerns, including insufficient capital and insurance to protect against a catastrophic event, unfair competition, conflicts of interest arising from controlling uranium supplies while trading uranium financial instruments, and inadequate safeguards." (p.133 - emphasis added)
"The risks attached to those activities continue to be significant, and Goldman's efforts to address and mitigate them have fallen short of what the Federal Reserve has indicated is necessary." (p. 142)
Westinghouse Columbia nuclear fuel plant requests increase of possession limit for U-235 to pursue business opportunities involving UF6 interim storage (South Carolina)
> View here
Australian investment bank Macquarie Group has bought Deutsche Bank's uranium book, a source familiar with the matter said, as the increasingly commodities-focused lender pushes deeper into global energy trading.
The deal includes Deutsche's long-term trading contracts and stockpiles of low-grade uranium yellowcake, which were valued at the end of last year at around $200 million.
Industry experts say they comprise enough uranium to fuel around 10 average-sized nuclear power plants for 12-18 months.
The source said the deal was completed late this summer, but did not reveal how much it was worth.
A spokeswoman for Macquarie in London declined any comment.
(Reuters Oct. 21, 2014)
(for Uranium Hexafluoride Transport, see here)
Blockade of train carrying uranium ore concentrate in Hamburg port
In the evening of Nov. 10, around 10 activists of Robin Wood staged a blockade of a train carrying uranium ore concentrate in the Hamburg port area. Police removed the activists from the track.
(Hamburger Abendblatt Nov. 10, 2014)
Uranium ore concentrate unloaded near passenger ships in Hamburg port
A few hundred meters from the cruise liner Queen Mary 2 and the local ferry Ovelgönne, 13 containers with uranium ore concentrate were unloaded from the cargo ship Sheksna in the Hamburg port on Nov. 6, 2014. The ship came from St Petersburg, and the ore concentrate most likely originates from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. It is to be transported by rail to Areva's Malvési conversion plant in Southern France.
(Robin Wood / Deutschlandfunk Nov. 6, 2014)
18 trainloads of uranium ore concentrate traveled across Rheinland-Pfalz state in 2013 (Germany)
Uranium ore concentrate is transported on a regular basis from the ports in northern Germany to Areva's Malvési conversion plant in Narbonne (southern France). Replying to a parliamentary question, the Rheinland-Pfalz state government disclosed the following numbers of train transports with uranium ore concentrate crossing the state: 19 transports in 2012, 18 in 2013, and 13 in 2014 (to date).
> Download: Landtag Rheinland-Pfalz, Drucksache 16/3889, 25. 08. 2014 (713k PDF - in German)
Blockade of train carrying uranium ore concentrate near Hamburg
Shortly after 7 AM this morning (Aug. 18), anti-nuclear activists chained themselves to the track in front of and behind a train carrying 50 sea containers with uranium ore concentrate ("Yellow Cake"). The train was waiting at the Hamburg-Süd shunting yard, while on its way from the Hamburg port to Areva's conversion plant in Malvési, France. The uranium ore concentrate originates from Kazakhstan, Namibia, and possibly Uzbekistan.
Police ended the blockade around 11:30 AM.
(umweltFAIRaendern.de Aug. 18, 2014)
German government discloses comprehensive nuclear material transport statistics
In reply to a parliamentary question, the German Federal Government has disclosed comprehensive data on hundreds of transports of nuclear material across Germany since 2012, including uranium ore concentrate ("Yellow Cake"), uranium hexafluoride (of natural isotope composition, enriched, depleted, and heels), UO2 pellets and fuel elements, among others.
Antwort der Bundesregierung auf die Kleine Anfrage der Abgeordneten Hubertus Zdebel, Caren Lay, Herbert Behrens, weiterer Abgeordneter und der Fraktion DIE LINKE. - Drucksache 18/1851 - Gefahren durch Atomtransporte in Deutschland, Deutscher Bundestag, Drucksache 18/2101, 10.07.2014 (1MB PDF - in German)
Uranium ore concentrate transport from Kazakhstan to France provokes protests during transit across Germany
On July 14, 2014, a transport of 17 sea containers containing uranium ore concentrate from Kazakhstan left the Hamburg port by rail. It's destination was Areva's Malvési conversion plant in southern France. The transport had arrived on the vessel Sheksna via the Kiel Canal. Four containers had to stay at the Hamburg port for the time being, since their licence had expired. Anti-nuclear groups along the transport route protested against the transport.
(BBU July 15, 2014; releases of various anti-nuclear groups)
Uranium ore concentrate spilled in transport accident near Paladin's Kayelekera mine (Malawi)
> View here (Feb. 17, 2014)
Truck with uranium damaged in accident (India)
> View here (Oct. 25, 2011)
Yellow cake containers damaged in severe weather during shipment from Canada to China
A cargo ship carrying Cameco's uranium concentrate (U3O8) left Vancouver on December 23, 2010 and encountered severe weather conditions en route to China. The ship continued to operate normally through the storm and there were no injuries to the crew.
On January 3, 2011 Cameco was notified that sea containers, loaded with drums filled with uranium concentrate, had shifted and two opened drums were outside of their sea container. All the uranium is safely sealed off in one of the ship's cargo holds, the crew is safe and the environment is protected. At the time, the ship was between Hawaii and Midway Islands.
On Cameco's recommendation, the ship is returning to British Columbia where a team from Cameco is positioned to assess, secure and remediate the cargo.
(Cameco Jan. 14, 2011)
The ship has anchored at Ladysmith, British Columbia, where a team from Cameco has commenced preliminary assessment work in preparation to enter the ship's hold.
(Cameco Jan. 16, 2011)
Cameco's assessment team was able to view a section of the cargo hold of the container ship MCP Altona . It now appears a number of the sea containers that held drums of uranium concentrate have been damaged and our team has confirmed there is some loose uranium in the hold.
(Cameco Jan. 18, 2011)
The Altona left Vancouver on Dec. 23, 2010, en route to Zhanjiang, China, carrying 770,000 pounds of uranium concentrate (296 t U) in roughly 840 drums.
(Vancouver Sun Jan. 18, 2011)
> View Photo Gallery: Cameco's uranium spill (Calgary Herald Jan. 19, 2011)
On February 24, 2011, Cameco announced that its remediation plan has now been approved by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, Transport Canada and Port Metro Vancouver. Uranium recovery activities on the Altona will take place at the Port of Vancouver and will begin immediately. The company expects work on the Altona will continue over the coming weeks.
On March 22, 2011, Cameco announced that all of the sea containers have been safely removed from the Altona and are now back at the Key Lake mill in Saskatchewan.
Altona in limbo as lawsuits rage:
The MCP Altona has been anchored in Indian Arm near the Dollarton neighbourhood (off North Vancouver) since the spring, when federal officials gave it a clean bill of health following the mop-up of a load of uranium concentrate that spilled on-board.
The producers of the cargo, Saskatchewan's Cameco Corp., say the owners of the ship owe them $19 million or more for the losses Cameco suffered as a result of the accident. Cameco blames them for the spill, which took place when the Altona hit a winter storm in the central Pacific late last year.
The ship's immediate owners, a company called MS >MCP Altona< GmbH & Co KG, have since gone bankrupt, meaning Cameco has to wait for the ship to be sold before it has any chance of collecting. While the vessel waits for a buyer, and lawyers deal with the issues, the Altona will stay in the inlet.
(Vancouver Sun Sep. 26, 2011)
No money for Cameco after sale of ship that had uranium spill on its way to China:
Saskatchewan mining company Cameco will not get any money from the sale of a ship that once had a uranium spill at sea - and that it spent millions cleaning up.
Instead, according to a recent Federal Court decision, a German bank that held a mortgage on the shipping vessel MCP Altona will get most of the $4.6 million raised when it was sold.
Cameco says it won't appeal this decision, but hopes to get some money another way.
(CBC Feb. 7, 2013)
Yellowcake truck gets stuck in Kakadu National Park (Australia)
> View here (Jan. 5, 2011)
Cargo vessel carrying uranium collides with chemical tanker off Swedish and Danish coasts
On July 3, 2009, at 13:30 h, two ships collided in Drogden Rende on the Danish side of Öresund strait just north of the Öresund bridge. The hulls of both ships got heavy damage. Malta-registered cargo vessel "Kapitan Lus", loaded with aluminum and 182 t of "raw" uranium, was rammed in the side by the Norwegian chemical tanker "Sundstraum", carrying methanol. The uranium transport was on the way from St Petersburg in Russia to Le Havre in France; its uranium cargo is marked UN 2912 for "Radioactive material, low specific activity, not otherwise specified" [this code is used for uranium ore concentrate]. No persons were injured and no environmental releases occured. There was sunny weather with excellent visibility in the Öresund region and none of the vessels had reported any technical problems before the crash.
(Dagens Nyheter/The Swedish Wire/Politiken/Greenpeace Sweden, July 3, 2009)
The crew of the "Sundstraum" has declared that they had technical problems with the steering system.
(Dagens Nyheter July 4, 2009)
Railcar with Yellow Cake shipment for Malvési conversion plant overloaded (France)
> View here (Aug. 13, 2008)
Leaking Yellow Cake container arrives at Comurhex Malvési uranium conversion plant (France)
> View here (July 26, 2007)
Yellow Cake truck overturns in Andhra Pradesh
> View here (July 25, 2007)
Semitrailer hauling uranium oxide hits ditch after collision at highway intersection in Saskatchewan (Canada)
> View here (June 23, 2007)
Derailment of railway car carrying uranium ore concentrates (France)
> View here (September 23, 2001)
Fire on railway car carrying uranium ore concentrates (France)
> View here (June 8, 2000)
Two suspects arrested for uranium possession (South Africa)
South African police have launched an investigation into how two Mozambican men obtained a kilogramme of uranium which they tried to sell in Durban, a spokesman said Tuesday (Nov. 19).
The South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (NECSA) confirmed that the substance was uranium and is testing its isotopic identity and levels.
The material is likely to have come from a mine, possibly not within South Africa.
The results of the tests on the uranium are expected Thursday (Nov. 21).
(AFP Nov. 19, 2013)
Moldova officials say crime ring has weapons-grade enriched uranium
Investigators following up on a nuclear sting in eastern Europe suspect that a crime syndicate was trying to sell weapons-grade uranium to buyers in North Africa.
Officials in Moldova, a former Soviet republic, told The Associated Press that 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of highly enriched uranium remains in criminal hands and is probably in another country.
Though that is a fraction of what is needed for a bomb, the investigation has provided fresh evidence of a black market in nuclear material probably taken from poorly secured stockpiles in the former Soviet Union.
(AP Sep. 27, 2011)
Suspected theft of yellow cake from Areva's Trekkopje uranium mine
> View here
Brazilian police discover 450 kg of contraband uranium ore
Police in the north Brazilian state of Amapa have unearthed a cache with 450 kg of enriched uranium ore [?!], a dangerous mineral used for nuclear arms production.
The operation to seize radioactive material was a result of four-month work by investigators, who found a bag of pitchblende on Friday (Jan. 22) in a remote area of tropical rainforest.
(RIA Novosti Jan. 23, 2010)
Report: Iran seeking to smuggle raw uranium from Kazakhstan
> View here
Police seizes 170 kg of stolen uranium (Namibia)
> View here
Illegal uranium mining in Afghanistan unabated
> View here
Unauthorized mining at former Shinkolobwe uranium mine
> View here
> View Current Uranium Prices
> See also: DOE policy for managing excess uranium inventory
DOE invites comment on proposal to continue sale of up to 2,705 tonnes of surplus uranium per year
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is planning to issue a new Secretarial Determination covering continued transfers of uranium for cleanup services at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant and for down-blending of highly-enriched uranium to low-enriched uranium (LEU).
The 2014 determination covers up to 2,055 MTU per year of natural uranium hexafluoride and off-specification non-uranium hexafluoride for cleanup services and up to 650 MTU per year (contained in LEU) for down-blending of highly-enriched uranium.
Submit comments by January 7, 2015.
> Federal Register Volume 79, Number 235 (Monday, December 8, 2014) p. 72661-72663 (download full text )
DOE to sell up to 2,705 tonnes of surplus uranium per year until 2021
"Today, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz issued a determination permitting the Department of Energy to make uranium transfers to fund accelerated cleanup activities at the Portsmouth or Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Sites and the down blending of highly enriched uranium into low-enriched uranium to support national security objectives. The Determination finds that the proposed transfers of uranium will not have an adverse material impact on the domestic uranium industries.
The determination covers the Department's sales or transfers of no more than 2,705 metric tons (MTU) of natural uranium (NU) or NU equivalent in a calendar year. The proposed transfers include up to 650 MTU per year by the National Nuclear Security Administration in support of highly enriched uranium down blending activities, with the remainder of up to 2,705 MTU per year supporting accelerated cleanup activities by the Office of Environmental Management. [...]"
(DOE May 15, 2014)
> View DOE release May 15, 2014
> Download Secretarial Determination , May 15, 2014 (55k PDF)
> Download 2014 Review of the Potential Impact of DOE Excess Uranium Inventory On the Commercial Markets , April 25, 2014 (1.2M PDF)
DOE's sales of surplus uranium violate fiscal law, GAO finds
> Download Excess Uranium
Inventories - Clarifying DOE's Disposition Options Could Help Avoid Further Legal Violations , GAO-11-846, United States Government Accountability Office, Sep. 26, 2011 (2.3MB PDF)
U.S. Energy Dept to sell surplus uranium
The U.S. Energy Department plans to sell 2,000 tonnes of surplus uranium annually 2011-2013, which could push spot prices lower over the next three years.
The department announced late on Wednesday (Mar. 2) the sales will take place every three months, with no more than 450 metric tons put on the market per quarter.
The uranium, which can be processed as fuel for nuclear power plants, will help cover the cost of cleaning up the Portsmouth uranium enrichment plant in Ohio.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu approved the transfers after he determined the sales would not hurt domestic uranium producers, the department said.
(Reuters Mar. 3, 2011)
> View DOE release Mar. 2, 2011 (includes links to Secretarial Determination and market impact analysis)
No sale of U.S. DOE uranium inventories in 2011
The U.S. Energy Department has canceled plans to put into the market during 2011 extra government-owned surplus uranium supplies, Energy Secretary Steven Chu told Congress on Thursday (Feb. 4), but the uranium transfers will continue for this year.
The department had planned to transfer next year up to 1,125 tonnes, or about 2.48 million lbs, of its surplus uranium a year to raise money to pay for the cleanup of the Portsmouth uranium enrichment plant in Ohio.
The uranium would have been transferred to USEC Inc.
However, Chu told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that the department did not want to put too much uranium in the market because it would go against an earlier agreement with uranium producers.
Not only would business be taken away from domestic uranium producers, but the additional government supplies in the market could have depressed prices, making it difficult for producers to expand operations.
The department is continuing with its uranium transfers planned for this year to USEC to fund the cleanup of the Portsmouth plant, a department spokeswoman said.
Again, up 300 tonnes a quarter with a 1,125-tonne cap on total uranium transfers will be allowed this year, the spokeswoman said.
The Energy Department has 59,000 tonnes of inventories of natural uranium built up for military purposes during the Cold War and is releasing the stocks gradually over about 25 years.
(Reuters Feb. 4, 2010)
U.S. DOE plans to sell more uranium from inventories
On August 4, 2006, the U.S. Department of Energy presented to industry representatives its draft strategy for the proposed near- and long-term sale of its uranium inventory.
> View: U.S. DOE Nuclear Energy - Presentations
Korea, DPR ·
South Africa ·
Paraguay offers export of uranium to Argentina
European Union ·
Korea, Rep. ·
United Arab Emirates ·
United Kingdom ·
> See also here