Even though most natural resource investors are vaguely aware that Russia is important in energy markets, few appreciate just how big a stick that country holds.
For instance, the daily news abounds with stories on crude supply from Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran. As if the market lives and dies by these players. But Russia actually produces twice the oil of Iran. And four times that of Iraq. In fact, the Great Bear pumps out nearly as much oil as the Saudis, lagging the world's top spot by only a few hundred thousand barrels a day.
In natural gas, the Russians have an even larger edge. More than 25% of the world's gas reserves lie in Russia, making the nation by far the world's largest player in that increasingly important energy commodity.
Even fewer investors realize that Russia might be world's largest holder of uranium. That's understandable given the country doesn't show up on most official lists of uranium reserves. But that has more to do with politics than geology.
Our research shows that Russia contains a staggering amount of yellowcake. Although the country mined a meager 7.3 million pounds in 2005, there is much more lurking below ground.
Numerous deposits containing more than 20 million pounds uranium are known within the country. But here's the kicker: the two largest established projects have hundreds of millions of pounds. Streltsovsk in the Lake Baikal region hosts 283 million pounds. And the Aldansky uranium district in South Sakha/Yakutia boasts an astonishing 749 million pounds.
By contrast, Cameco's Cigar Lake and McArthur River mines -- the largest in Canada -- contain combined reserves of 621 million pounds. Or just 60% the size of Russia's two giants.
The Canadian advantage is that the Russian deposits are considerably lower grade: in the range of 0.1 to 0.2% U. Which means mining operations here would likely need higher prices to be profitable.
Or maybe not. Aldansky contains gold credits, which enhance the value of the rock. Similar to Australia's Olympic Dam deposit, which is being operated despite a grade of just 0.05%.
In fact, the Russians have recently made noise about restarting Aldansky. Reported in the Moscow Times this past February, the Russian government announced plans to spend $10 billion over the next 10 years boosting its uranium output. Aldansky is a key part of this plan. "As of now, the infrastructure... is in place," said Vladimir Bavlov, deputy head of the Federal Subsoil Resource Use Agency.
Impact on Global Markets
While it's too early to assess the impact of a major new source of uranium stepping onto the world stage, we can say that it is unlikely to do much more than dampen some of the upward pressure on prices. That's by virtue of the fact that the uranium supply deficit is intractable and will only grow worse as the next wave of new reactors, some 178 worldwide, come online over the next decade.
This year alone, the shortfall between new production and that needed to operate the world's reactors is estimated to be around 80 million pounds. In most of the world, pushing a new uranium deposit through all the red tape and into production takes on the order of 10 to 20 years.
Russia's style of government, on the other hand, has a bit more say in these things and so can be expected to move much more quickly to capitalize on the opportunities caused by the uranium deficit.
But even a ten-fold increase in Russian production wouldn't be enough to offset the deficit, especially given that the long supply shortfall has caused a draw-down in stockpiles and the recyclables created by dismantling the Soviet Union's nuclear arsenal.
So, how do we profit from Russia's uranium riches? Opportunities may come soon. There is emerging speculation that the Russians will open up uranium deposits to foreign investment. They simply don't have the capital to develop these things themselves.
Which means that a junior company -- with the right team and the right financial backing -- may be able to scoop a major new deposit or two. No announcements have been made yet, but deals are in the works.
Getting in on the winning Russian yellowcake companies would be a windfall. Given the large market capitalizations of comparable companies with relatively small deposits in the U.S., Canada and Australia, a junior with a 20-million, or even 100-million-pound deposit could instantly vault into the upper echelon of the sector. The gains to be made by buying in early could rival anything we've seen in uranium to date.
With high-impact opportunities in uranium becoming ever harder to find, we're looking at Russia as one of the best emerging investment areas. Get a step ahead of the crowd by beginning your own research today. It's a topic we'll be following closely in the Casey Energy Speculator in the weeks and months ahead, so don't miss out on this incredible opportunity, subscribe today!