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In search for uranium and geopolitical influence. Goals and objectives of French President Macrons visit to Kazakhstan

photo: azerbaycan24.com
8 November 2023
Femida SelimovaFemida Selimova

Femida Selimova

CISS expert

In the past two years the flow of high-ranking politicians to Central Asia practically never has been running dry. In the first place, this region is attractive because of its rich reserves of mineral resources, including the energy sources critically important for the European Union (EU). In contrast to the broken traditional logistic chains through Russia the role of CA has increased sharply in terms of transport connection of Europe with Asia, first of all with China. In early November 2023 President of France Emmanuel Macron came to Kazakhstan on an official visit.

Along the well-trodden path

Visits by French presidents to Kazakhstan do not happen very often. Before Macron François Hollande had been there as far back as 2014. However, this does not hinder close political and economic cooperation between Paris and Astana. 2023 marks the 15th anniversary of the signing of the strategic cooperation agreement between the two countries. As was stated in Astana, France is an important and reliable partner of Kazakhstan in Europe. To Paris, too, Kazakhstan is a leading trade-economic partner in Central Asia.

Emmanuel Macrons arrival in Astana was a return visit to France last year by the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan (RK) Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. Macrons trip practically coincided with the 30th anniversary of the visit to Kazakhstan by another French President François Mitterand. At that time, in September 1993, agreements were signed that up till now constitute the foundation of bilateral relations. President E. Macron was accompanied in this trip by a large delegation consisting of several ministers, as well as top managers of 15 leading French companies from the energy, agro-industrial and mining sectors.

According to the information from the Elysee Palace, the main goals of the visits were diversification of strategic and economic connections, as well as building up presence by way of signing contracts in such fields as energy, supplies of mineral resources, transport and aviation. The French Presidents Administration also mentioned Emmanuel Macrons intention to bolster defense cooperation between Paris and Astana.

Earlier Le Monde and the AFP agency underscored in their joint article that Emmanuel Macrons objective is to elevate Frances authority in the region. «Both Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are aiming for greater economic openness and balanced diplomacy, even though Russia remains their primary partner», the publication said. Referring to a source in the French presidency its authors underline that the French Presidents visit is aimed at supporting «interest in a diversification of partnerships expressed by both countries». [1

In its turn, Bloomberg notes that Macrons trip to Central Asia rich in mineral resources pursues two objectives. The first is to enhance Frances energy security. What is meant here is supplies of critically important uranium which Paris imports from Kazakhstan as well. [2] The second objective is to «move away former Soviet republics out of their dependence on Russia». «French officials believe that the war in Ukraine broke long-established relationship in the region and this creates new opportunities», Bloomberg stressed. The agencys sources said that in early 2023 Kazakhstan became one of the few countries with which the G7 countries decided to deepen partnership: «That means that in courting the land-locked republics wedged between China and Russia Macron finds himself part of a broader trend».

By the way, not only Macron shows interest to Kazakhstan. The region became a magnet that attracts leading western players. Thus, the European Union stepped up its dialogue with all five former Soviet republics of Central Asia. In the past years new formats appeared: EU-CA summit, EU-CA economic forum; besides, various high level conferences are held on a regular basis. In addition to that, bilateral meetings and visits gain momentum. These are intended not only to bolster the existing partnership relations, but also to elevate them to a new level. In the past year post-Soviet countries were visited by the President of the European Council Charles Michel,  head of European diplomacy Josep Borrel, President of Germany Frank-Walter Steinmeier and a number of other leaders of the EU member states which indicates a growing interest to the region.

Astana emphasized special significance of Emmanuel Macrons visit. «Cooperation between Kazakhstan and France is developing dynamically, however, it is necessary to give it an additional impetus», said Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

In turn, Macron showered the leadership of Kazakhstan with compliments. «France highly appreciates our friendship. We are moving along the path of strengthening the relations. It is a path for the country [Kazakhstan] that refuses to be a vassal [of Russia] and wants to maintain balanced relations with various states», the French President proclaimed. [3

Astana and Paris determined priority areas of cooperation. These are: green energy, logistics, transit, agriculture, health, digitization and education. The parties also confirmed readiness to continue close cooperation within the framework of the agreement on partnership and extended cooperation between the Republic of Kazakhstan and the European Union. [4

Business forum

Cooperation between the entrepreneurs of the two countries was much talked about at the forum held with participation of the presidents. Tokayev pointed out that about 200 French companies operate in Kazakhstan, including TotalEnergies, Orano, Air Liquide in the energy sector, Airbus, Saint-Gobain in industry, Alstom in the railway industry, Lactalis and Danone in the agri-food sector.

«In 2022 mutual turnover grew by 30% and reached 4 bn dollars. The volume of bilateral trade in the eight months of 2023 increased by 21% as compared with the last year and amounted to 2.7 bn dollars», Kassym Jomart Tokayev stated.

During the business forum about 20 commercial agreements were signed on joint projects to the total amount of 1.4 mln dollars. By the way, in November last year 25 agreements were signed to the total amount of 3 bn dollars during the investment round table Kazakhstan-France held in Paris. [5

Kassym-Jomart Tokayev also held separate meetings with a number of top managers of the French companies. They talked about the projects being implemented and planned.

Thus, while talking to the RKs President Andrė Besnier, the head of Lactalis Group (producers of cheese and dairy products), spoke about plans to open new production sites in Kazakhstan. Lactalis Group having offices in 150 countries has been represented in the market of Kazakhstan since 2004 and became one of the first French enterprises that came to the country. Lactalis Group operating in the territory of Kazakhstan consists of three plants, sixteen retail outlets and two dairy farms. The company gives regular jobs to one thousand and five hundred people. In turn, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev noted that under the conditions of global food security risks cooperation in the agro-food industry and on manufacturing of food products is especially important. In this connection, Astana encourages the attraction of investments into the advanced processing of food products.

Promising partnership, as Emmanuel Macron said, is effected in the sphere of medicine. French authorities and companies operating in the field of health and pharmaceutics show great interest to the implementation of investment projects in Kazakhstan. At this stage Astana actively promotes the establishment of a biotechnology cluster; in order to develop this industry a national biopharmaceutical holding QazBioPharm was established. The head of Boehringer Ingelheim France Christiane Wijsen noted at the meeting with the RKs President that in this connection the agreement between her company and QazBioPharm is of great importance. It provides for transfer of technologies which allow the production of vaccines against foot-and-mouth disease and anthrax in Kazakhstan. [6]

Oil and uranium

Energy is one of the systemically important areas of cooperation between Paris and Astana. Kazakhstan is one of the main suppliers of oil on the French market and is ready to build up export volumes. There is a great potential for cooperation on geological exploration of oil and gas. It is worth noting here that the French energy giant TotalEnergies has long been participating in a large-scale project on the development of the maritime oil-and-gas field Kashagan in the northern part of the Caspian Sea.

Far more important object of interest for France is uranium which comes from Kazakhstan, among other sources. Nuclear power plants (NPP) are the backbone of the French electric power industry. The country receives about 70% of generated electric energy from NPP and is the second-biggest uranium consumer in the world after the USA.

In addition to meeting the domestic demand, electric energy generated by the French NPP is supplied to Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, U.K. and Spain. Revenues reach 3 bn per year which makes France a world leader in electric energy supply.

In 2014 French authorities decided to reduce the share of nuclear generation to 50% by 2025. However, in 2019 this objective was postponed until 2035 and in the current year it was cancelled at all. Besides, France now intends to build new nuclear facilities. In February 2022 Paris announced plans to build six new nuclear reactors and to consider building another eight in the future.

Almost half a century ago one of the key uranium suppliers for France was Niger. From this African country, its former colony, Paris until quite recently received 18% of uranium required by the French NPP. A coup dėtat in Niger executed in July 2023 put energy security of France in danger. The military administration that came to power shut off uranium export to France and EU. The prospects of supply renewal now look vague. In any case, Paris can hardly count on the previous prices.

To compensate for the missing volumes of uranium supplies from Niger the French President now has to travel all over the world. Prior to his trip to Kazakhstan Emmanuel Macron had visited Mongolia. Besides uranium, he was promised lithium supplies here. It is noteworthy that the French President had made the trip to Mongolia back in May, before the well-known events in Africa took place. This means that Paris «keeps its fingers on the pulse» and tries to secure itself in terms of providing uranium reserves so critically important to France.

According to the data of Kazakhstans Ministry of Energy, the country is No.2 in the known reserves of natural uranium. Its earths depths contain about 14% (more than 700 thousand tons) of the world reserves. In uranium production Kazakhstan is among the leaders: in 2022 it received more than 21 thousand tons of uranium by the method of drillhole in-situ leaching which constituted 40% of the world production. For comparison: according to the estimates of the World Nuclear Association, Canada produced 7.3 thousand tons, Namibia 5.6 thousand tons, Australia 4.5 thousand tons, Uzbekistan 3.3 thousand tons, Russia 2.5 thousand tons, Niger 2 thousand tons, China 1.7 thousand tons.

The Kazatomprom company is the worlds biggest uranium producer (last year its share was about 22% of the aggregate world production) as well as a national operator for the import and export of uranium, rare earth metals, nuclear fuel for NPPs. Together with the subsidiaries, affiliated entities and joint ventures the company develops 26 fields in the territory of Kazakhstan amalgamated into 14 uranium mining enterprises.

On the eve of the French Presidents visit to Astana Bloomberg reported with reference to its sources: one of the items of the bilateral negotiations will be increasing Kazakhstans uranium supplies. As is known, the delegation that accompanied Macron during the visit included representatives of the French state company EDF (Électricité de France) and engineering company Assystem S.A. working in the field of nuclear energy. It should be pointed that Paris not just buys uranium from Kazakhstan. One of the uranium deposits Moinkum in the Turkestan region is developed by KATCO, a joint venture of Kazatomprom and rano S.A., the leader of Frances nuclear industry.

It is worth noting that diversification of uranium importers is a corner stone of EDFs energy security strategy designed to back up its ability to cope with serious repercussions on the market, such as a sudden ban on the uranium import from Niger.

«Kazakhstan occupies the first place in the world in uranium production providing more than a quarter of the nuclear fuel consumed in Europe. Since nuclear power industry is 63% in the energy sector of France, there is a huge potential for further cooperation», said Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. The Presidents of Kazakhstan and France signed a declaration on cooperation in mineral resources to which uranium belongs too. However, no further details were reported. Concrete understandings might have been classified by the sides as «commercial secret».

By the way, for Kazakhstan the French sides desire to increase the volumes of uranium imports is quite profitable since the respective quotations have been growing very rapidly lately. While in January a pound of uranium cost 48.85 dollars, now the price has reached a 15-year old maximum exceeding 74 dollars, which is not the limit yet.

Since 2020 prices for uranium have grown up by 125%. More than a decade after the shock caused by the Fukushima nuclear accident made a number of countries revise their dependence on nuclear energy the latter proved itself as a vitally important element of transition to the low-carbon future. Growing prices for uranium are attributed to the EU decisions to recognize NPP as a green type of electric power generation. [7]

In this situation several hedge funds Terra Capital and Segra Capital  buy up shares of the uranium mining companies (Cameco, Energy Fuels, Ur-Energy and NexGen Energy) placing their bets on a fast growth of quotations.

According to the estimates of the International Energy Agency (IEA), the current nuclear capacity in the world is supposed to double by the middle of this century. As of today, global nuclear industry is represented by 440 nuclear reactors in 33 countries.

Meanwhile, the lions share (more than 70%) from the total volume of electric energy produced in Kazakhstan falls on the coal generation. With this, in the past two years the country has been facing an acute deficit of electric energy which is explained by the growing consumption. In the peak hours the deficit reaches 1,200 MW per day. Kazakhstan has to cover the deficit of electricity by virtue of import from Russia. According to the forecasts of Kazakhstans Ministry of Energy, energy deficit in the country will tend to grow.

It is not incidental that Astana considers the construction of the first nuclear power plant. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev proposed putting this issue to a national referendum. Its date is not fixed yet. Kazakhstans Ministry of Energy had reported earlier that based on research results the most preferential location for building a NPP is a site in the vicinity of the village Ulken of the Zhambyl district of the Almaty region.

In February 2022 the head of the nuclear energy department of Kazakhstans Ministry Energy Zhaslan Kasenov said that nuclear technologies of six countries are under consideration: USA, Japan, South Korea, China, Russia, France. In the summer of the same year a short list was made up including four companies bidding to build the first NPP in Kazakhstan, including the ROSATOM corporation.

At present, along with ROSATOM the authorities of Kazakhstan also consider three more potential suppliers of nuclear technologies: Chinese CNNC, South Korean KHNP and French EDF. The latter is deemed to be the biggest operator of nuclear plants in the world. «As you know, EDF was included into the short list, and if the French delegation is interested we are ready to discuss its participation. Most likely, during this visit we shall mention this cooperation as having rather good prospects», said Almasadam Satkaliyev, Kazakhstans Minister of Energy  answering  the question on the agenda of negotiations during the official visit of Emmanuel Macron to the RK. [8]

Earlier Timur Zhantikin, General Director of Kazakhstan Nuclear Power Plants, did not exclude that the choice of the partner to build the NPP may be made in late 2023. He noted that on this issue Astana is guided by technological and economic factors without regard to political ones.

It is noteworthy that during Emmanuel Macrons visit Kazatomprom and the French company Framatome, the developer and manufacturer of equipment for nuclear power stations, signed an agreement on cooperation in the nuclear fuel cycle. It provides for implementation of joint advanced projects on the nuclear fuel cycle, as well as education and training of specialists. [9]

Conclusions

Losing positions (and uranium) in Africa dramatically France seeks not only to diversify sources of uranium supplies, but also to aggressively «stake out a claim to a place» in Kazakhstan in a bid to play a significant role in developing high-tech nuclear projects. As for the construction of the first NPP in Kazakhstan, the French state company Électricité de France acts as the main competitor of ROSATOM. The prize here is much higher than just a contract for what is involved is geopolitical influence in the region.

1. Macron to visit Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan to bolster France's influence in the region. Le Monde, 01.11.2023. https://www.lemonde.fr/en/asia-and-pacific/article/2023/11/01/macron-to-visit-kazakhstan-and-uzbekistan-to-bolster-france-s-influence-in-the-region_6217927_153.html

2. Macron Lands in Putins Backyard Seeking New Friends and Uranium. Bloomberg, 31.10.2023. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2023-10-31/macron-lands-in-putin-s-backyard-seeking-new-friends-and-uranium

3. Macron thanked Tokayev for his geopolitical position. Zakon.kz, 01.11.2023. https://www.zakon.kz/politika/6412384-makron-poblagodaril-tokaeva-za-ego-geopoliticheskuyu-pozitsiyu.html

4. Dėclaration conjointe du Prėsident de la Rėpublique française et du Prėsident de la Rėpublique du Kazakhstan. ELYSEE, 01.11.2023. https://www.elysee.fr/emmanuel-macron/2023/11/01/declaration-conjointe-du-president-de-la-republique-francaise-et-du-president-de-la-republique-du-kazakhstan

5. Energy, Agriculture, and Engineering: Kazakhstan and France Sign Documents Worth $1.4 Billion. KAZAKH INVEST National Company, 02.11.2023. https://invest.gov.kz/media-center/press-releases/energetika-selskoe-khozyaystvo-i-mashinostroenie-kazakhstan-i-frantsiya-podpisali-dokumenty-na-1-4-m/

6. Ibidem. https://invest.gov.kz/media-center/press-releases/energetika-selskoe-khozyaystvo-i-mashinostroenie-kazakhstan-i-frantsiya-podpisali-dokumenty-na-1-4-m/

7. Hedge Funds Pile Into Uranium Stocks Set for «Dramatic» Rise. Bloomberg, 29.10.2023. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2023-10-29/hedge-funds-pile-into-uranium-stocks-poised-for-dramatic-gains

8. Kazakhstan declared rowdiness to talks with the French EDF on construction of nuclear power plant. TASS, 01.11.2023. https://tass.ru/ekonomika/19168029

9. Kazatomprom and Framatome signed an agreement on cooperation on nuclear fuel cycle. Science and business portal Atomic Engergy 2.0., 02.11.2023. https://www.atomic-energy.ru/news/2023/11/02/140195

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Publications

In search for uranium and geopolitical influence. Goals and objectives of French President Macrons visit to Kazakhstan

photo: azerbaycan24.com
8 2023
Femida Selimova

Femida Selimova

CISS expert

In the past two years the flow of high-ranking politicians to Central Asia practically never has been running dry. In the first place, this region is attractive because of its rich reserves of mineral resources, including the energy sources critically important for the European Union (EU). In contrast to the broken traditional logistic chains through Russia the role of CA has increased sharply in terms of transport connection of Europe with Asia, first of all with China. In early November 2023 President of France Emmanuel Macron came to Kazakhstan on an official visit.

Along the well-trodden path

Visits by French presidents to Kazakhstan do not happen very often. Before Macron François Hollande had been there as far back as 2014. However, this does not hinder close political and economic cooperation between Paris and Astana. 2023 marks the 15th anniversary of the signing of the strategic cooperation agreement between the two countries. As was stated in Astana, France is an important and reliable partner of Kazakhstan in Europe. To Paris, too, Kazakhstan is a leading trade-economic partner in Central Asia.

Emmanuel Macrons arrival in Astana was a return visit to France last year by the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan (RK) Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. Macrons trip practically coincided with the 30th anniversary of the visit to Kazakhstan by another French President François Mitterand. At that time, in September 1993, agreements were signed that up till now constitute the foundation of bilateral relations. President E. Macron was accompanied in this trip by a large delegation consisting of several ministers, as well as top managers of 15 leading French companies from the energy, agro-industrial and mining sectors.

According to the information from the Elysee Palace, the main goals of the visits were diversification of strategic and economic connections, as well as building up presence by way of signing contracts in such fields as energy, supplies of mineral resources, transport and aviation. The French Presidents Administration also mentioned Emmanuel Macrons intention to bolster defense cooperation between Paris and Astana.

Earlier Le Monde and the AFP agency underscored in their joint article that Emmanuel Macrons objective is to elevate Frances authority in the region. «Both Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are aiming for greater economic openness and balanced diplomacy, even though Russia remains their primary partner», the publication said. Referring to a source in the French presidency its authors underline that the French Presidents visit is aimed at supporting «interest in a diversification of partnerships expressed by both countries». [1

In its turn, Bloomberg notes that Macrons trip to Central Asia rich in mineral resources pursues two objectives. The first is to enhance Frances energy security. What is meant here is supplies of critically important uranium which Paris imports from Kazakhstan as well. [2] The second objective is to «move away former Soviet republics out of their dependence on Russia». «French officials believe that the war in Ukraine broke long-established relationship in the region and this creates new opportunities», Bloomberg stressed. The agencys sources said that in early 2023 Kazakhstan became one of the few countries with which the G7 countries decided to deepen partnership: «That means that in courting the land-locked republics wedged between China and Russia Macron finds himself part of a broader trend».

By the way, not only Macron shows interest to Kazakhstan. The region became a magnet that attracts leading western players. Thus, the European Union stepped up its dialogue with all five former Soviet republics of Central Asia. In the past years new formats appeared: EU-CA summit, EU-CA economic forum; besides, various high level conferences are held on a regular basis. In addition to that, bilateral meetings and visits gain momentum. These are intended not only to bolster the existing partnership relations, but also to elevate them to a new level. In the past year post-Soviet countries were visited by the President of the European Council Charles Michel,  head of European diplomacy Josep Borrel, President of Germany Frank-Walter Steinmeier and a number of other leaders of the EU member states which indicates a growing interest to the region.

Astana emphasized special significance of Emmanuel Macrons visit. «Cooperation between Kazakhstan and France is developing dynamically, however, it is necessary to give it an additional impetus», said Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

In turn, Macron showered the leadership of Kazakhstan with compliments. «France highly appreciates our friendship. We are moving along the path of strengthening the relations. It is a path for the country [Kazakhstan] that refuses to be a vassal [of Russia] and wants to maintain balanced relations with various states», the French President proclaimed. [3

Astana and Paris determined priority areas of cooperation. These are: green energy, logistics, transit, agriculture, health, digitization and education. The parties also confirmed readiness to continue close cooperation within the framework of the agreement on partnership and extended cooperation between the Republic of Kazakhstan and the European Union. [4

Business forum

Cooperation between the entrepreneurs of the two countries was much talked about at the forum held with participation of the presidents. Tokayev pointed out that about 200 French companies operate in Kazakhstan, including TotalEnergies, Orano, Air Liquide in the energy sector, Airbus, Saint-Gobain in industry, Alstom in the railway industry, Lactalis and Danone in the agri-food sector.

«In 2022 mutual turnover grew by 30% and reached 4 bn dollars. The volume of bilateral trade in the eight months of 2023 increased by 21% as compared with the last year and amounted to 2.7 bn dollars», Kassym Jomart Tokayev stated.

During the business forum about 20 commercial agreements were signed on joint projects to the total amount of 1.4 mln dollars. By the way, in November last year 25 agreements were signed to the total amount of 3 bn dollars during the investment round table Kazakhstan-France held in Paris. [5

Kassym-Jomart Tokayev also held separate meetings with a number of top managers of the French companies. They talked about the projects being implemented and planned.

Thus, while talking to the RKs President Andrė Besnier, the head of Lactalis Group (producers of cheese and dairy products), spoke about plans to open new production sites in Kazakhstan. Lactalis Group having offices in 150 countries has been represented in the market of Kazakhstan since 2004 and became one of the first French enterprises that came to the country. Lactalis Group operating in the territory of Kazakhstan consists of three plants, sixteen retail outlets and two dairy farms. The company gives regular jobs to one thousand and five hundred people. In turn, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev noted that under the conditions of global food security risks cooperation in the agro-food industry and on manufacturing of food products is especially important. In this connection, Astana encourages the attraction of investments into the advanced processing of food products.

Promising partnership, as Emmanuel Macron said, is effected in the sphere of medicine. French authorities and companies operating in the field of health and pharmaceutics show great interest to the implementation of investment projects in Kazakhstan. At this stage Astana actively promotes the establishment of a biotechnology cluster; in order to develop this industry a national biopharmaceutical holding QazBioPharm was established. The head of Boehringer Ingelheim France Christiane Wijsen noted at the meeting with the RKs President that in this connection the agreement between her company and QazBioPharm is of great importance. It provides for transfer of technologies which allow the production of vaccines against foot-and-mouth disease and anthrax in Kazakhstan. [6]

Oil and uranium

Energy is one of the systemically important areas of cooperation between Paris and Astana. Kazakhstan is one of the main suppliers of oil on the French market and is ready to build up export volumes. There is a great potential for cooperation on geological exploration of oil and gas. It is worth noting here that the French energy giant TotalEnergies has long been participating in a large-scale project on the development of the maritime oil-and-gas field Kashagan in the northern part of the Caspian Sea.

Far more important object of interest for France is uranium which comes from Kazakhstan, among other sources. Nuclear power plants (NPP) are the backbone of the French electric power industry. The country receives about 70% of generated electric energy from NPP and is the second-biggest uranium consumer in the world after the USA.

In addition to meeting the domestic demand, electric energy generated by the French NPP is supplied to Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, U.K. and Spain. Revenues reach 3 bn per year which makes France a world leader in electric energy supply.

In 2014 French authorities decided to reduce the share of nuclear generation to 50% by 2025. However, in 2019 this objective was postponed until 2035 and in the current year it was cancelled at all. Besides, France now intends to build new nuclear facilities. In February 2022 Paris announced plans to build six new nuclear reactors and to consider building another eight in the future.

Almost half a century ago one of the key uranium suppliers for France was Niger. From this African country, its former colony, Paris until quite recently received 18% of uranium required by the French NPP. A coup dėtat in Niger executed in July 2023 put energy security of France in danger. The military administration that came to power shut off uranium export to France and EU. The prospects of supply renewal now look vague. In any case, Paris can hardly count on the previous prices.

To compensate for the missing volumes of uranium supplies from Niger the French President now has to travel all over the world. Prior to his trip to Kazakhstan Emmanuel Macron had visited Mongolia. Besides uranium, he was promised lithium supplies here. It is noteworthy that the French President had made the trip to Mongolia back in May, before the well-known events in Africa took place. This means that Paris «keeps its fingers on the pulse» and tries to secure itself in terms of providing uranium reserves so critically important to France.

According to the data of Kazakhstans Ministry of Energy, the country is No.2 in the known reserves of natural uranium. Its earths depths contain about 14% (more than 700 thousand tons) of the world reserves. In uranium production Kazakhstan is among the leaders: in 2022 it received more than 21 thousand tons of uranium by the method of drillhole in-situ leaching which constituted 40% of the world production. For comparison: according to the estimates of the World Nuclear Association, Canada produced 7.3 thousand tons, Namibia 5.6 thousand tons, Australia 4.5 thousand tons, Uzbekistan 3.3 thousand tons, Russia 2.5 thousand tons, Niger 2 thousand tons, China 1.7 thousand tons.

The Kazatomprom company is the worlds biggest uranium producer (last year its share was about 22% of the aggregate world production) as well as a national operator for the import and export of uranium, rare earth metals, nuclear fuel for NPPs. Together with the subsidiaries, affiliated entities and joint ventures the company develops 26 fields in the territory of Kazakhstan amalgamated into 14 uranium mining enterprises.

On the eve of the French Presidents visit to Astana Bloomberg reported with reference to its sources: one of the items of the bilateral negotiations will be increasing Kazakhstans uranium supplies. As is known, the delegation that accompanied Macron during the visit included representatives of the French state company EDF (Électricité de France) and engineering company Assystem S.A. working in the field of nuclear energy. It should be pointed that Paris not just buys uranium from Kazakhstan. One of the uranium deposits Moinkum in the Turkestan region is developed by KATCO, a joint venture of Kazatomprom and rano S.A., the leader of Frances nuclear industry.

It is worth noting that diversification of uranium importers is a corner stone of EDFs energy security strategy designed to back up its ability to cope with serious repercussions on the market, such as a sudden ban on the uranium import from Niger.

«Kazakhstan occupies the first place in the world in uranium production providing more than a quarter of the nuclear fuel consumed in Europe. Since nuclear power industry is 63% in the energy sector of France, there is a huge potential for further cooperation», said Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. The Presidents of Kazakhstan and France signed a declaration on cooperation in mineral resources to which uranium belongs too. However, no further details were reported. Concrete understandings might have been classified by the sides as «commercial secret».

By the way, for Kazakhstan the French sides desire to increase the volumes of uranium imports is quite profitable since the respective quotations have been growing very rapidly lately. While in January a pound of uranium cost 48.85 dollars, now the price has reached a 15-year old maximum exceeding 74 dollars, which is not the limit yet.

Since 2020 prices for uranium have grown up by 125%. More than a decade after the shock caused by the Fukushima nuclear accident made a number of countries revise their dependence on nuclear energy the latter proved itself as a vitally important element of transition to the low-carbon future. Growing prices for uranium are attributed to the EU decisions to recognize NPP as a green type of electric power generation. [7]

In this situation several hedge funds Terra Capital and Segra Capital  buy up shares of the uranium mining companies (Cameco, Energy Fuels, Ur-Energy and NexGen Energy) placing their bets on a fast growth of quotations.

According to the estimates of the International Energy Agency (IEA), the current nuclear capacity in the world is supposed to double by the middle of this century. As of today, global nuclear industry is represented by 440 nuclear reactors in 33 countries.

Meanwhile, the lions share (more than 70%) from the total volume of electric energy produced in Kazakhstan falls on the coal generation. With this, in the past two years the country has been facing an acute deficit of electric energy which is explained by the growing consumption. In the peak hours the deficit reaches 1,200 MW per day. Kazakhstan has to cover the deficit of electricity by virtue of import from Russia. According to the forecasts of Kazakhstans Ministry of Energy, energy deficit in the country will tend to grow.

It is not incidental that Astana considers the construction of the first nuclear power plant. President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev proposed putting this issue to a national referendum. Its date is not fixed yet. Kazakhstans Ministry of Energy had reported earlier that based on research results the most preferential location for building a NPP is a site in the vicinity of the village Ulken of the Zhambyl district of the Almaty region.

In February 2022 the head of the nuclear energy department of Kazakhstans Ministry Energy Zhaslan Kasenov said that nuclear technologies of six countries are under consideration: USA, Japan, South Korea, China, Russia, France. In the summer of the same year a short list was made up including four companies bidding to build the first NPP in Kazakhstan, including the ROSATOM corporation.

At present, along with ROSATOM the authorities of Kazakhstan also consider three more potential suppliers of nuclear technologies: Chinese CNNC, South Korean KHNP and French EDF. The latter is deemed to be the biggest operator of nuclear plants in the world. «As you know, EDF was included into the short list, and if the French delegation is interested we are ready to discuss its participation. Most likely, during this visit we shall mention this cooperation as having rather good prospects», said Almasadam Satkaliyev, Kazakhstans Minister of Energy  answering  the question on the agenda of negotiations during the official visit of Emmanuel Macron to the RK. [8]

Earlier Timur Zhantikin, General Director of Kazakhstan Nuclear Power Plants, did not exclude that the choice of the partner to build the NPP may be made in late 2023. He noted that on this issue Astana is guided by technological and economic factors without regard to political ones.

It is noteworthy that during Emmanuel Macrons visit Kazatomprom and the French company Framatome, the developer and manufacturer of equipment for nuclear power stations, signed an agreement on cooperation in the nuclear fuel cycle. It provides for implementation of joint advanced projects on the nuclear fuel cycle, as well as education and training of specialists. [9]

Conclusions

Losing positions (and uranium) in Africa dramatically France seeks not only to diversify sources of uranium supplies, but also to aggressively «stake out a claim to a place» in Kazakhstan in a bid to play a significant role in developing high-tech nuclear projects. As for the construction of the first NPP in Kazakhstan, the French state company Électricité de France acts as the main competitor of ROSATOM. The prize here is much higher than just a contract for what is involved is geopolitical influence in the region.

1. Macron to visit Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan to bolster France's influence in the region. Le Monde, 01.11.2023. https://www.lemonde.fr/en/asia-and-pacific/article/2023/11/01/macron-to-visit-kazakhstan-and-uzbekistan-to-bolster-france-s-influence-in-the-region_6217927_153.html

2. Macron Lands in Putins Backyard Seeking New Friends and Uranium. Bloomberg, 31.10.2023. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2023-10-31/macron-lands-in-putin-s-backyard-seeking-new-friends-and-uranium

3. Macron thanked Tokayev for his geopolitical position. Zakon.kz, 01.11.2023. https://www.zakon.kz/politika/6412384-makron-poblagodaril-tokaeva-za-ego-geopoliticheskuyu-pozitsiyu.html

4. Dėclaration conjointe du Prėsident de la Rėpublique française et du Prėsident de la Rėpublique du Kazakhstan. ELYSEE, 01.11.2023. https://www.elysee.fr/emmanuel-macron/2023/11/01/declaration-conjointe-du-president-de-la-republique-francaise-et-du-president-de-la-republique-du-kazakhstan

5. Energy, Agriculture, and Engineering: Kazakhstan and France Sign Documents Worth $1.4 Billion. KAZAKH INVEST National Company, 02.11.2023. https://invest.gov.kz/media-center/press-releases/energetika-selskoe-khozyaystvo-i-mashinostroenie-kazakhstan-i-frantsiya-podpisali-dokumenty-na-1-4-m/

6. Ibidem. https://invest.gov.kz/media-center/press-releases/energetika-selskoe-khozyaystvo-i-mashinostroenie-kazakhstan-i-frantsiya-podpisali-dokumenty-na-1-4-m/

7. Hedge Funds Pile Into Uranium Stocks Set for «Dramatic» Rise. Bloomberg, 29.10.2023. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2023-10-29/hedge-funds-pile-into-uranium-stocks-poised-for-dramatic-gains

8. Kazakhstan declared rowdiness to talks with the French EDF on construction of nuclear power plant. TASS, 01.11.2023. https://tass.ru/ekonomika/19168029

9. Kazatomprom and Framatome signed an agreement on cooperation on nuclear fuel cycle. Science and business portal Atomic Engergy 2.0., 02.11.2023. https://www.atomic-energy.ru/news/2023/11/02/140195