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Years after Fukushima meltdown, Saskatchewan still suffering via National Observer

Saskatoon-based Cameco, the world’s largest publicly traded uranium miner, recently announced more than 620 layoffs, significant quarterly losses, and a contract dispute with the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) to the tune of $1.3 billion.

TEPCO has been unable to run its nuclear plants for 18 months due to new government regulations and has cited a ‘force majeure’ event to cancel its remaining deliveries from Cameco: almost 9.3 million pounds of uranium through 2028. In legal terms, this is the equivalent of invoking an unforeseen ‘Act of God.’ Cameco emphatically rejected the termination notice. If negotiations fail, the parties may proceed to international arbitration.

“We’ve worked with eight of the 11 Japanese utilities on a number of things to help them with their difficult circumstances,” Grant Isaac, vice-president and CFO of Cameco, said in a recent conference call with investors and media. He noted that the risk of contract termination was always looming but “what’s happened here with TEPCO really is a departure from the successful commercial relationships we’ve had with the others, including TEPCO, post-Fukushima.”

Uranium stocks may have bottomed out

Public perceptions of the nuclear industry have also been permanently tarnished. After a series of public protests in 2011, the German government of Angela Merkel reversed its energy policy and pledged to shut down 17 reactors by 2022. These plants had met 20 per cent of the country’s energy needs. In Britain, Toshiba recently sold its stake in an unfinished English plant and announced intentions to stop building new reactors altogether.

The sting has also been felt in Khazakstan, the world’s largest uranium producer by volume. In January, state-owned Kazatomprom announced a ten- per-cent cut in output due to poor market conditions and global oversupply.

But just as fissures precede fission, there may be hope for Cameco, demonstrated in a discrepancy between market potential and current performance. In December, Palisade Research confidently declared that uranium stocks had finally bottomed out, with nowhere to go but up.

According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, there are currently 60 nuclear units under construction in 15 countries worldwide, the bulk of which will be operational by 2025 – there are also more than 160 others in the licensing and advanced planning stages. More than half of the reactors under construction are in China (20), Russia (seven) and India (five).

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