Japanese utilities start selling uranium fuel into depressed market

Company accounts for the financial year ended in March showed that nuclear fuel valuations ranged from nearly two times market capitalization in the case of Hokkaido Electric Power to 16 percent for Chubu Electric Power. (Reuters)
Updated 23 August 2019

Japanese utilities start selling uranium fuel into depressed market

  • Sales by Japanese utilities “are definitely showing up more in the market”

TOKYO: Japan’s nuclear operators are starting to sell some of their huge holdings of uranium fuel, as chances fade of restarting many more reactors eight years after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
The sales so far have been small, but were made at values well below their purchase price and are likely to further depress the already beaten-down uranium market, say two senior market specialists.
They could also focus attention on the balance sheets of the country’s utilities, bolstered by holdings of nuclear fuel valued at 2.5 trillion yen ($24 billion), a figure that market experts say is highly unrealistic.
“Given the extended shutdown of our reactors, we are selling uranium as well as canceling long-term contracts where necessary,” Japan Atomic told Reuters in a statement.
The company, which is yet to receive all the regulatory approvals needed to restart reactors at either of its two nuclear stations, declined to provide further details.
Before the meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power’s Fukushima plant in March 2011 after an earthquake and tsunami, Japan was the world’s third-biggest user of nuclear power behind the United States and France, operating 54 nuclear reactors.
It is permanently shutting 40% of its facilities and just nine of the 33 remaining have restarted. With reactors also being closed in the United States, Germany, Belgium and other countries, traders and specialists say the market is likely to remain depressed for years.
Unlike other commodities such as crude oil, most of the nuclear fuel market is privately traded, generally on long-term contracts, although CME Group’s NYMEX has a futures contract for uranium oxide (U308).
The contract is settled on prices supplied by US-based UxC LLC and is currently trading at about a third of where it was before Fukushima. US based UxC, LLC also calculates prices for converted and enriched uranium.
Sales by Japanese utilities “are definitely showing up more in the market,” said one US-based market specialist, who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the industry.
“Some are selling uranium, some are selling more upstream products or services,” such as enriched uranium, he said. “Japanese inventory is a big overhang in the market.”
A senior fuel trader told Reuters his company had purchased nuclear fuel from a Japanese utility but declined to give details.
Japan Atomic was responding to a Reuters survey of 10 Japanese utilities that have operated nuclear plants. All the other utilities declined to comment on whether they had sold any nuclear fuel.
One said it adjusts supplies for optimal inventory levels and three said they have delayed deliveries of fuel.
Tepco in 2017 canceled a supply contract with Canadian uranium fuel producer Cameco, which was awarded $40.3 million in damages last month by an arbitration panel.
“Tepco has made efforts to reduce its holdings of nuclear fuel, such as by partly reducing uranium purchase contracts,” the company told Reuters, without giving further details.
Unlike in Europe and the United States, Japanese utilities are not required to mark to market their fuel holdings. They are booked on Japanese operators’ balance sheets as fixed assets at the purchase price, the utilities told Reuters.
“If the utilities are not going to use the fuel, and it is unlikely they will get many more reactors going, then at some point they will have to take losses on their holdings,” said Tom O’Sullivan, the founder of energy consultancy Mathyos Japan.
Company accounts for the financial year ended in March showed that nuclear fuel valuations ranged from nearly two times market capitalization in the case of Hokkaido Electric Power to 16 percent for Chubu Electric Power.
Sector-wide the nuclear fuel valuation is nearly 50 percent of the market value of the nine publicly traded utilities, calculations by Reuters showed.
Japanese utilities also count spent fuel that is being reprocessed into highly toxic plutonium for future use in reactors as an asset on their balance sheets.
The country has the world’s biggest inventory of plutonium held by a state without nuclear weapons, but experts say it may be more of a liability than an asset.
“That is not something they can sell and get paid for,” said Tomas Kaberger, energy and environment professor at Chalmers University of Technology and a board member of Swedish nuclear operator Vattenfall.
“It is something they will have to spend a lot of money on to build a repository for that can last a few hundred thousand years,” Kaberger said.


EU leaders to clash over money as Brexit blows hole in budget

Updated 20 February 2020

EU leaders to clash over money as Brexit blows hole in budget

  • Britain’s exit leaves 75 billion euro hole in bloc’s finances
  • For next 7-year cycle, starting point for talks is 1.074% of GNI
BRUSSELS: European Union leaders will clash this week over the EU’s 2021-2027 budget as Britain’s exit leaves a 75 billion euro ($81 billion) hole in the bloc’s finances just as it faces costly challenges such as becoming carbon neutral by 2050.
The budget is the most tangible expression of key areas on which the EU members must focus over the next seven years and their willingness to stump up.
For the coming seven-year cycle, the starting point for talks is 1.074% of the bloc’s gross national income (GNI), or 1.09 trillion euros. By contrast, EU national budgets claw in 47% of annual output (GDP) on average.
Still, disputes over hundredths of percentage points have kept EU and government officials busy for the last two years and many diplomats remain skeptical that a deal will be reached on Thursday and Friday, when leaders meet in Brussels.
“Tomorrow’s summit is a complex and complicated summit because the proposal we have received does not meet our expectations,” said Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. Italy is one of the net contributors to the common EU pot.
The EU budget gets money from customs duties on goods entering its single market, a cut of sales tax, antitrust fines imposed by the EU on companies, and from national contributions.
It spends money on subsidies for EU farmers, on equalizing living standards across the bloc, border management, research, security and various non-EU aid programs.
Some net contributors — the “frugal four” of the Netherlands, Austria, Sweden and Denmark — want to limit the budget to 1.00% of GNI. Germany, the biggest contributor, is prepared to accept a bit more, but 1.07 is too high for Berlin.

Cohesion funds
The European Commission has proposed 1.1% and the European Parliament, which will vote on the budget, wants 1.3%. For net beneficiaries such as Poland, larger is better.
For many central and eastern European countries, EU “cohesion funds” are crucial. “The costs related to Brexit and other challenges should be more equitably distributed,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki wrote in the Financial Times, adding this was not the case due to proposed deep cuts for cohesion policies and the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
But with less money coming in because of Brexit, some net contributors argue there is simply less to share around. Also, more money should be spent to modernize the EU economy rather than on preserving agriculture, they say.
EU leaders will discuss the idea of a tax on plastic waste that would go to EU coffers and sharing some profits from trading carbon emission permits.
The EU is also considering other taxes — on the digital economy, on flying, on financial transactions and on products made with high CO2 emissions imported into the EU.
Commission officials warn time is running out and the EU risks starting next year with no money to protect its borders, finance research and fund student exchanges, or equalize standards of living.