Korea, the world’s fifth-largest user of nuclear power, is expected to start the production of its own uranium as early as 2015, Australian energy company Stonehenge Metals, which has the exclusive rights to the deposits, said Wednesday.
“Our goal is to operate the first uranium mine in Korea, which would be both a massive national asset and a boon to the local communities,” Richard Henning, managing director of the Perth-based Stonehenge, said at a press conference in Seoul.
In the 1980s, the Korean government discovered uranium deposits in an underground seam near Daejeon, about 160 kilometers south of Seoul. But they were not commercially viable at the time due to the high cost of development.
Nuclear power supplies 40 percent of power needs here and the domestic demand for the material will continue to double by 2020. But Korea has been entirely dependent on imports for uranium thus far.
The Stonehenge chief said, however, the situation has changed.
The price of uranium has surged from $5 to $50 per pound over the past years, while global demands for uranium are soaring as countries race to secure more deposits of the element, which is essential for nuclear power.
According to a previous study by the Korean government, around 65 million pounds of uranium are distributed throughout the Daejeon area, an amount that could deliver a quarter of the nation’s current nuclear needs for the next 20 years.
Given that the company believes an additional 17 to 39 million pounds of uranium is buried in neighbouring areas, Henning said, “Korea is one of the largest uranium opportunities in the world.”
He also predicted that developing its own uranium will give Korea enhanced negotiation power in international uranium talks, with the country securing a 25 percent self-sufficiency rate for the material.
Stonehenge purchased the 25-year rights to the deposits in 2010 from a Korean firm. The company plans to start production as early as 2015 once all environmental studies are completed.
Henning said the company would invest $200-250 million into the Korean product as much as in other previous cases with similar size. And the investment money could be paid back within three years after production.
On safety concerns about nuclear power, he made it clear that the company has carried out the best and most transparent practices in Australia while following related laws that put the industry under some of the highest environmental standards in the world.
“Prior to seeking approval for a mining license, Stonehenge will make a detailed report of its plans available for full public review,” he said. “We would also expect and welcome constant monitoring of our operations once they get under way.”
During the press meeting, the company also announced its plan to carry out a feasibility study on vanadium in Korea, which is also an essential material used to strengthen steel and in high-performance batteries. -By Lee Ji-yoon