Following last night "historic" AUKUS deal, which officially pitted US and UK with Australia against China, in the process supplying the aussies with nuclear-powered subs (while enraging the French whose $50 billion contract to build diesel-electric submarines was scrapped as a result), Australia has a revelation: the deal would see Australia become the only country in the world with nuclear-powered submarines to not have its own domestic nuclear industry. This in turn immediately led to further calls to reverse a longstanding ban on developing local uranium resources.
“Getting nuclear subs makes sense for our national defense,” said Queensland Nationals Senator Matt Canavan, who has been leading a push in parliament to develop Australia’s nuclear industry. “But no country in the world has nuclear subs without having nuclear power,” he said.
“I thought before the subs deal we should have nuclear power — it makes even more sense now.”
As Australia's Daily Telegraph poignantly observes, France, which was previously to supply Australia with diesel subs assembled in Adelaide, has its own fleet of 10 nuclear attack and nuclear ballistic missile submarines, and derives more than 70% of its domestic energy needs from nuclear power. Of course, Russia and the US both have large nuclear-powered naval fleets, and derive about 20% of their respective domestic electricity from nuclear.
China, meanwhile, is continuing to develop its own nuclear-powered and nuclear-armed navy but only relies on atomic energy for 5% cent of its power, thanks to its lax environmental standards and reliance on coal-fired power.
As a result, local mining industry figures, said that this was the perfect time to reignite the discussion about nuclear.
“This is a perfect opportunity to update our approach to nuclear energy by removing the cold-war era ban on uranium mining in NSW. It’s a real chance to develop a new industry here in NSW that could provide local uranium to meet our domestic energy and national security needs,” NSW Mining CEO Stephen Galilee said.
Galilee’s thoughts were echoed by the Minerals Council of Australia’s Tania Constable, who said of the deal, “This is an incredible opportunity for Australia’s economy — not only will we develop the skills and infrastructure to support this naval technology, but it connects us to the growing global nuclear power industry and its supply chains.
But, she added, “Outdated regulations at the federal and state levels that prohibit nuclear power — and in some cases exploration and mining of uranium — contribute to Australia being unable to properly even consider, let alone develop, this important industry.”
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese, however, kiboshed any thought of leveraging a domestic nuclear industry off the deal, saying that a condition for the ALP’s support was that “there be no requirement of a domestic civil nuclear industry”.
His objection, however, fell on deaf ears and overnight Australia's uranium stocks soared on hopes that Australia was indeed set to finally enter the nuclear era. As a result Deep Yellow jumped as much as 10%, Paladin Energy soared as much as 9.3%, Defense contractor Austal shares climbs as much as 7.4%; the most since March and Peninsula Energy jumped at much as 17%.
Meanwhile, back in the US uranium stocks have continued their ascent as more investors focus on Sprott's attempt to go "Hunt Brothers" on uranium with his Sprott Physical Uranium Trust which has been on a buying spree, bolstering its stockpile by 45% in four weeks after snapping up 8.1 million pounds of the commodity while prices soared. Uranium has surged 40% this month, putting pressure on utility owners and other users when supplies are dwindling and demand is set to take off thanks to more reactors being built around the world.
Discussing its strategy with Bloomberg, the Canadian firm behind the world’s only physical uranium fund said it wasn't solely responsible for the move, but that hedge funds and family offices are driving up demand for the radioactive metal used to fuel nuclear reactors.
“I don’t think we’re crowding them out,” said John Ciampaglia, chief executive officer of Sprott Asset Management, which oversees the trust. “You’ve got end users that are trying to buy materials, you’ve got speculators and financial intermediaries in the market as well.”
Investment demand from non-utility buyers such as hedge funds and family offices has been strong this year, even before Sprott’s asset-management unit launched its trust on July 19, according to Ciampaglia. A few uranium development companies bought the physical commodity after raising equity in the capital markets rather than parking the proceeds into cash, he said.
Still, according to the latest data, Sprott’s trust holds about 26 million pounds of uranium, equal to about 14% of the annual consumption from the world’s nuclear reactors. The closed-end fund was formed out of an April takeover of Uranium Participation Corp., which held 18 million pounds of uranium, and its trust units trade on the Toronto Stock Exchange. The fund invests and holds substantially all of its assets in uranium, which is stored in highly secured facilities in Canada, France and the U.S.
Units of Sprott Physical Uranium Trust have soared 42% in September since our post "A Bitcoin-Like Opportunity In Uranium?"
Historically low prices and pandemic-driven mine disruptions have prompted uranium producers including Cameco to buy from the spot market to fulfill their long-term contracts with consumers. That means stockpiling by the Sprott fund may have the potential for tightening the market and boosting prices, in the process as prices rise, the value of the fund will rise as well, attracting more inflows, leading to even more uranium purchases, even higher prices and so on until we have another Hunt Brothers situation on our hands, only with uranium this time instead of silver.
The robust investment demand is built on a growing realization that nuclear power is becoming more accepted by policymakers worldwide as a way to limit greenhouse-gas emissions, Ciampaglia said Wednesday in an interview. Australia's reaction was merely confirmation of this.
“That’s something that’s just recent, and you’re seeing this from the Biden administration acknowledging and providing support for nuclear,” he said. “And the European Union clearly identifies nuclear as part of the taxonomy.”
As Bloomberg adds, Uranium is also getting a boost from generalist investors who are seeking investments that meet environmental, social and governance criteria or support the energy shift away from fossil fuels, he said.
Then there’s the recent buzz from retail investors, with uranium becoming a recent target of the meme-stock frenzy that share tips on Reddit message boards. Cameco, the world’s second-largest uranium miner, was the most searched stock symbol on Monday, according to WallStreetBets Ticker Sentiment.
Reddit day-traders “seem to be into it,” Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Eric Balchunas said in an interview. “When you have something that’s starting to surge that’s been beaten for 10 years and there’s some more room to run potentially, I think that’s what they’re trying to do.”