Creating new markets for uranium 1

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  1. Rod,
    Any thoughts on Lightbridge (LTBR) You had a post a while ago when it was at it’s 52 week highs that articulated the bull case. The stock has fallen all the way back to 1 which is frustrating because they appear in an even better place than they were when the stock was at 2.41. They also recently issued a PR about Halden testing,but that PR was frustrating to me because they failed to mention a date. I don’t understand the haphazard way management communicates with shareholders. Often missing key information about timelines and revenues. I think part of why Lightbridge is so low is the many close but no cigar attempts at a joint venture in the past over many years that has made the market deeply skeptical. The thing that keeps me in though is the JV with Areva now appears very close and I have to assume Areva would not get this close to the finish line with LTBR if there wasn’t real value to the fuel. I just wish management would for once stick to dates and start testing the damn fuel. Do you still think they are legit or a perpetual wait and see stock?

    1. @Brian:

      I’m not a licensed investment adviser. However, I can say that the nuclear world rewards patience – sometimes.

      What Lightbridge is doing isn’t easy.

  2. The US Department of Energy has, or did have, a “Depleted Uranium Utilization Program” aimed at finding commercial outlets for the enormous stocks of DU sitting around at enrichment plants. Some of that, of course, is well above present-day tails fractions & thus worth re-enriching, & the laser-enrichment folks are still hopeful of getting some value by driving the tails fractions down even further, but that still leaves a great mass of the stuff.

    This program supported some work, which I want to find out more about, on the use of UO2 for semiconductor devices. Apparently it has some properties which look considerably more attractive than those of silicon, & it’s much cheaper than the exotic gallium arsenide. While U for decorative glass & ceramics is a small (although certainly highly visible) market no matter what, semiconductor devices could be a very large one.

    1. I see problems with ROHS restrictions.  Uranium is a toxic heavy metal and would probably be prohibited in any uses which don’t allow lead-based solder.

      1. Lead is very mobile. Uranium in the form of ceramic oxide is not. And in any case even metallic uranium is far less toxic than materials such as gallium arsenide or mercury cadmium telluride, which are commonly used in semiconductor devices. Don’t forget, these components are normally processed in a highly hands-off fashion, & then sealed in plastic or ceramic encapsulations before leaving the factory.

  3. Likewise for uses and markets for Thorium. Its like marijuana.. Since the government and environmentalist clansmen have oppressed, vilified, suffocated, and bankrupted useful applications of nuclear materials why not create “bootleg” uranium glass, as an act of defiance?

    1. There are some artists who use uranium in ceramics & glass work, both within & outside the US. But in general, I believe the obstacles in getting hold of any sizeable quantity are discouraging so far as commercial production is concerned.

    2. Re: “why not create “bootleg” uranium glass, as an act of defiance?”
      If uranium glass really is of great worth, the “bootlegging” might not be done as a simple act of defiance — the motivation could be more akin to other bootlegging (or counterfeiting and forgery): to make money.

  4. Rod, a revised essay concerning uranium glass would make a suitable op-ed for TNYT. Maybe emphasize the silly laws which disable that use of uranium.

  5. Do you imagine the stockpile of depleated U is so small that more extractiom would occure if the market expanded?

    1. I don’t think DU is a factor, period.  Who’s going to sell it?  Then there’s the cost of conversion from UF4/UF6.

      If you’re making uranium glass or the like, it seems far more likely that you’ll just buy yellowcake from somebody in an amenable jurisdiction and turn it into product.  If you turn it into a lot of pretty things that travel well, it only matters where you are if you can’t find workers with the right skills.  That may be a problem in Namibia but probably not Kazakhstan.

      You’d also have to beware of import restrictions, but that’s only a problem if the customs inspectors know what they’re looking at.  Natural uranium is going to have a bit of a radiation signature and a whopping X-ray shadow, but I bet lead crystal has a big shadow too.

      You might be able to do this.  Maybe selling cool bowls and things which glow when set on the black-light base?  2 pounds of glass, maybe 10% U, 100k of them takes about 18 MT U… that’s looking significant.

      Double score if you can make cool-glowing glass beads threaded on optical fiber from the laser-diode pump.  Triple if you can incorporate it into earrings.

    2. I’m not talking about expanding the mining industry as much as I’m trying to suggest a way to expand the current demand back up to something that balances the current supply capacity.

      Right now, the demand is so low that prices in nominal dollars – ignoring the effects of inflation – are 1/2 of the 1973 price.

      Miners are struggling because those prices are at or below their production costs, leaving some unsavory choices that harm both investors and employees.

  6. Who’s up for starting a uranium glass kickstarter project? Nuclear power industry may not feed the kids much longer …

  7. I bought uranium stocks myself, in 2007 and before. I think they doubled at the time of peak price. Anyway, I tried to be patient. Kept listening to all the predictions of a comeback (by investment hucksters), which never came. Things just kept getting worse. After awhile, I learned to ignore them (came to believe that they were probably trying to find suckers to unload their shares onto).

    Finally, after a full decade, my patience ran out. After I retired, I opted to sell half my stock portfolio, to put it into safer investments. I used by uranium stock losses to offset gains in other stocks, to avoid a huge tax bill. Sold the uranium stocks for literally a penny on the dollar (most lost ~99%, the minor companies anyway; Cameco was merely down a factor of several). Who knows, at today’s prices, they could be a wise, longer-term investment, but I don’t know for sure, or have any faith in that.

    1. I was going to buy into the uranium stocks back then too, but then I thought if the industry took a turn for the worse, it would hurt both my job and my investments. So I invested in other things…

  8. The US is about a year away from launching people into Earth orbit aboard commercial spacecraft. And there’s serious talk about establishing a permanent human presence on the Moon and Mars.

    The Moon appears to be rich in thorium but rather deficient in uranium reserves. Mars appears to be deficient in both.

    The export of natural uranium and even depleted uranium from Earth to the Moon could be a growing demand starting in the 2020s onward as human populations steadily grow on the surfaces of the Moon and Mars.

    But long before that, uranium demand on Earth is going to jump dramatically once its realized that we are going to have to use uranium to produce carbon neutral synthetic fuels on a massive scale in order to stop the rapid global warming and global sea rise caused by fossil fuels. And this will probably mean the mass production of remotely sited ocean nuclear reactors using uranium that’s mostly extracted from seawater.

    Marcel

    1. “And this will probably mean the mass production of remotely sited ocean nuclear reactors using uranium that’s mostly extracted from seawater.”
      I’ve liked that idea for a long time.
      An added bonus would be taking cooling water from deep in the ocean (Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion — OTEC — style) which would give a thermodynamic benefit AND would provide micronutrients for a phytoplankton bloom. That plankton could be the basis for new stocks of fish and a portion of the biomass created would end up on the abyssal plain (thus providing carbon sequestration).

    2. I’d say that you’re optimistic with, “once its realized that we are going to have to use uranium to produce carbon neutral synthetic fuels on a massive scale in order to stop the rapid global warming”. The part that’s optimistic being that people will actually realize that.

      I work (employed again as of June, yay!) with experienced engineers, most of them electrical and almost all of them are thoughtlessly invested in the wind and solar mantra. There is little chance of convincing them that wind does not reduce CO2 emissions even with studies and evidence and the facts from Germany. One fellow doesn’t believe that wind is too intermittent to run a grid and they all seem to think that batteries will be a practical storage system that will balance wind and solar. But none of them have, you know, actually done any math on these topics.

      And these are folks whose profession involves analyzing things with math.

      They still believe and are emotionally and unconsciously invested in the idea that building wind and solar is synonymous with reducing CO2 emissions. I think in the younger cases it is part of their “hip” (for want of a better word) identity. They wouldn’t be as cool, if they didn’t believe.

      I despair of defeating this insidious meme. But I’ll keep trying.

      1. I should qualify that by “younger” I mean thirties to mid forties. The twenty-somethings seem a little more receptive to facts. I don’t understand the demographics at work. Maybe the thirty – forties group was raised by hippies?

  9. The only possible upside for the uranium market is if the US tries to ramp up exports to divert markets away from Russian + “stans” exports as we are trying to do with LNG. The largest western aligned uranium exporters are Canada, Australia and the US which together supply about 35%. So this strategy is probably not viable.

    Outside of Russia and Asia, new large nuclear is dead once current construction is completed. The climate change line that the nuclear industry foolishly hoped would save it is being increasingly rejected. How many climate change activists are bemoaning the cancellation of VC Summer?

    I expect that there will be a strong rebound in natural gas prices within the next 3-5 years. Today, there are numerous natural gas exploration/production and pipeline companies at multiyear lows. This is where I am looking for long term investments. Plus companies that build LNG terminals.

    There is a possibility that fewer existing nuclear plants will close than expected which is good if NG prices spike. At least one positive!

    I think the NG price recovery will not help large nuclear because of cost and construction times will prevent large nuclear from taking advantage. Plus the AP1000 debacle will still be relatively fresh in the minds of utilities, PSCs and the money people. It really is dead.

    NuScale has a good shot at getting their prototype built. We will see how costs and operability plays out. They are partnered with Fluor which is publicly held.

    I doubt we will see any of the other SMRs or thorium reactors go beyond the artwork stage outside of Asia.

  10. NuScale has a good shot at getting their prototype built. We will see how costs and operability plays out. They are partnered with Fluor which is publicly held.

    I doubt we will see any of the other SMRs or thorium reactors go beyond the artwork stage outside of Asia.

    BWXT has a good mix of commercial nuclear and defence/aerospace work and pays a dividend. I am waiting for the price to come down a bit before buying. They would be an ideal candidate to buy Westinghouse from Toshiba. Sadly, it looks like Wall $treet money shysters (Blackstone and Apollo) will get Westinghouse, milk it, saddle it with debt and sell it.

    I noted that there is strong support for nuclear power in Korea. The anti-nuclear government has relented and it looks like two nuclear plants under construction and put on hold will be completed. KEPCO will benefit from this and pays a nice dividend. I will buy on the next big Korea scare which should drop the price. If large nuclear has any chance at all in NA or Europe, KEPCO is likely to be the builder.

    But the future is natural gas.

    I don’t like this at all, since my education and career have been entirely in nuclear power. But it is the sad reality.

    1. According to World Nuclear News those two nuclear power plants will be the last ones KEPKO builds, baring a change in the South Korean government.

  11. Seeing U’s position in the periodich table, wouldn’t it be a very interesting catalyst in the (petro)chemical industry?

  12. I believe that when Fritz Haber was doing the original research into catalysts for making ammonia from Nitrogen and Hydrogen, he discovered that one of the best was uranium. High cost at the time compared to certain iron crystals ruled it out.
    More research is needed.