China Nuclear Starts Operation at Niger Uranium Mine

China National Nuclear Corp., the nation’s largest reactor builder, started trial operations at the Azelik uranium mine in Niger, its first overseas mine producing the nuclear fuel.

The company produced the first barrel of uranium at the mine in the West African nation yesterday, the Beijing-based company said in a statement on its website today, without giving further details.

China’s uranium demand may rise to 20,000 metric tons annually by 2020, more than a third of the 50,572 tons mined globally last year, according to the World Nuclear Association. The nation may purchase about 5,000 tons this year, more than twice as much as it consumes, to build stockpiles for new reactors, Thomas Neff, a physicist and uranium-industry analyst at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said in July.

China National Nuclear and Shenzhen-based ZTE Energy Co. expected to start production at uranium mines in Niger in 2009 and expand the annual output to 700 tons by 2011 and 1,000 tons ultimately, Chen Yuehui, deputy general manager of China National Nuclear’s overseas exploration unit, said in June 2008.

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