Uranium prices jumped as Kazakhstan, the world’s largest producer of the radioactive metal, struggles to cope with deadly protests that pose the biggest challenge to the country’s leadership in decades.
The Central Asian nation, a part of the former Soviet Union that produces more than 40% of the world’s uranium, has disrupted communications networks and restricted some travel in a bid to quell the unrest. The Kremlin said Russia and its allies in the Collective Security Treaty Organization will send “peacekeeping forces” after Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev appealed for assistance.
Uranium surged almost 8% to $45.25 a pound on Wednesday from $42 Tuesday, according to UxC data. The turmoil could lead to more reliance on suppliers outside Kazakhstan, resulting in a surge in shares of uranium companies in North America and Australia.
Given Kazakhstan’s role as the world’s No. 1 uranium supplier, “it’d be like if the Saudis had issues in oil,” said Jonathan Hinze, president of UxC LLC, a leading nuclear fuel market research and analysis firm. “Even if there isn’t a shortage right now, the potential for this to create a shortage is what people now are trading on.”
The nuclear fuel made a stunning comeback in September with prices surging 24% for the best monthly performance since late 2008. Investors are betting nuclear power will enjoy a renaissance as governments turn away from fossil fuels.
Shares of NAC Kazatomprom JSC, the biggest uranium miner, declined as much as 11% in London, while most uranium companies in North America extended gains from earlier this week after the European Union pushed ahead with a plan to label certain nuclear projects as sustainable.
With the unrest in Kazakhstan, “people wake up to the fact that maybe we can’t rely on one major producer,” said Nick Piquard, a portfolio manager at Horizons ETFs.
(By Yvonne Yue Li and Stephen Stapczynski, with assistance from Yuliya Fedorinova)