Russia’s state-owned nuclear energy company, Rosatom Corporation, is now planning to begin mining and selling lithium and other metals used in battery production, according to reports.
The move is the result of the rapid growth seen in the electric vehicle and energy storage sectors in recent years, and also a result of the recent collapse in uranium ore prices.
“The evolution of the car business is going much faster than predicted,” commented Kirill Komarov, the company’s first deputy head, in an interview with Bloomberg. “We plan to accumulate the whole integrated line of everything starting from lithium and up to final batteries or even some cooperation with car producers.”
I’ll note here that the veracity of that claim, that the embrace of electric vehicles (EVs) is “going much faster than predicted,” depends on whose predictions you were using as a guideline. There certainly have been some industry analysts that have predicted the growth rates in the sector that have been seen in recent years.
Bloomberg provides more: “Prices for lithium carbonate have more than doubled over the past two years to about $14,000 a metric ton, according to a UBS Group AG report last week. By comparison, uranium prices have dropped about 40% since the end of 2014.
“Rosatom plans to get 30% of its revenue from businesses outside nuclear energy by 2030, Komarov said. The company’s strong balance sheet, with a ratio of net debt to earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization of less than one, means it can invest in new products, he said. While Rosatom has a unit that produces lithium compounds, it doesn’t yet mine the commodity.
“A subsidiary, Atomredmetzoloto JSC, is in talks to revive a Soviet-era lithium mine in East Siberia, which was halted in the 1990s, Rosatom’s corporate newspaper reported earlier this year. The nuclear giant is also considering investing in lithium-mining projects in South America, its press service said.”
Relating to this news, Rosatom’s “Uranium One” unit based out of Toronto has announced that a new trading outpost has been opened in Zug, Switzerland, which will take part in lithium trading, and probably the trading of other metals as well.
“Our ambitions are to be more than just a uranium trader, we want to work with different metals and different products,” Komarov stated. “Lithium is definitely in the line.”
Interestingly, Komarov noted that current uranium ore prices are unsustainable — ~$20/pound, roughly a third of prices before the Fukushima nuclear disaster began in Japan. In other words, if prices don’t recover, then mining operations will have to be greatly scaled back.
“It’s not feasible to continue mining in this situation with these market prices,” Komarov concluded. “It means that in a normal market situation the price should start to grow. When we can expect this growth, nobody can predict.”
Hence the new bet on lithium, batteries, and electric vehicles.