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China sets sights on S. American uranium deposits

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RIO DE JANEIRO, March 10 (UPI) -- China is pouring cash -- before tons of concrete -- into 73 new nuclear power plants and has set sights on Latin America as a potential major source of uranium supplies in the near future. China is already well advanced in securing uranium sources in Africa and Asia.

Uranium exploration and production is on a fast track in South American countries that have prospered on commodity exports and are moving steadily into processing and manufacturing industries that draw on indigenous mining and natural resources.

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Uranium mining has also caught on because of market forecasts the prices for the mineral are set to soar as nuclear power is adopted as a "green" alternative by countries across the world, despite warnings about hazards of nuclear waste disposal, ambitious plans by China, India and other emerging economies would continue to push uranium prices.

"Long-term price support comes from international competition for the commodity as a result of escalating nuclear programs in nations such as India and China," the Uranium Miner said on its Web site.

China is set to surpass the United States as the world's largest consumer of uranium within two decades, Chinese nuclear industry reports said.

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The World Nuclear Association said 547 new reactors were planned, proposed or under construction. Of that large number, the reactors planned in China are said by industry analysts to be the nearest realization because of China's advanced scientific and technical infrastructure, ready access to hard cash and urgency of the need for clean energy for its industrial expansion.

Chinese President Hu Jintao explored joint uranium mineral projects when he visited South America last year.

This week the state-owned CGNPC Uranium Resources Co., Ltd., a sole subsidiary of China Guangdong Nuclear Power Holding Co. Ltd. made a $1.23 billion takeover bid for London-listed Kalahari Minerals of Namibia.

Industry analysts said in published media reports that China's bid, if successful, would impact on major mineral giants Extract Resources and Rio Tinto. Extract is 42.8 percent owned by Kalahari and holds a key uranium asset, the Husab uranium mine in Namibia that the Chinese are interested in.

Rio owns 11.5 percent of Kalahari and 14 percent of Extract, with the Husab deposit located within four miles of Rio's Rossing uranium mine.

China has 11 nuclear reactors in use and 13 under construction and plans another 60 by 2020. Each of the plants will need 400 tons of uranium each year.

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Brazil and Chile advanced uranium exploration and development this year but dozens of other uranium projects went under way across South America, some with the involvement of Iran, another upcoming consumer and advanced nuclear power developer.

Bolivia, Guyana and Venezuela received Iranian aid with uranium exploration and development. Chinese interests were cited in other negotiations for acquisition of uranium resources in Latin America.

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