Uranium mine in northern Saskatchewan McClean Lake. Photo copyright Canadian Nuclear Workers Council website.
The signature of Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister has put the Canada-China Nuclear Cooperation Agreement into force, meaning good things for Canada’s uranium exporters and even better things for producers in Saskatchewan.
The agreement expands a 1994 pact on nuclear cooperation and has been in the works for more than a year.
In January, the prime minister completed negotiations on the protocol during a visit to China. Foreign Affairs Minister, John Baird, penned his name to the supplementary protocol in Beijing this week.
Canadian exports for uranium currently generate about a million dollars a year with the majority of those exports coming from Saskatchewan.
Baird said the potential with the new agreement will see that figure rise significantly.
“It will definitely be in the billions of dollars in years to come and most of that benefit will be to the people of Saskatchewan,” said Baird.
Baird said this agreement has been a huge priority for the government as uranium mining giant Cameco already has contracts with Chinese electricity generation companies.
In 2010, Cameco signed two long-term supply agreements with two Chinese utilities for a combined total of 52 million lbs.
At the time, Cameco could only sell non-Canadian sourced uranium.
Rob Gereghty, spokesperson for Cameco, said that means they have to fill shipments through other sources like operations in Kazakhstan.
The new protocol will allow Cameco to export uranium straight from Saskatchewan.
"We’re very pleased with the progress on the protocol agreement … this also means more jobs and greater opportunities for people in Saskatchewan,” said Gereghty.
China has the world’s fastest growing nuclear power program and Minister Baird said the nuclear cooperation pact reached in 1994 didn’t go far enough to meet the growing energy needs in China.
The new agreement will facilitate the sale of billions of dollars worth of uranium to China for civilian nuclear electricity generation.
Canada has strong international obligations with the International Atomic Energy Agency to ensure that uranium is used for peaceful purposes (ie. for electricity and not for nuclear weapons). Baird said the new agreement exceeds those obligations.
“In China they have a significant growing demand for electricity and obviously nuclear power plays an important role in that it will help combat green house gas emissions and help ensure the electricity is generated with no air pollution,” said Baird.
The parliamentary process for international agreements requires the Canada-China Nuclear Cooperation Agreement to sit for 30 days before it can come into effect.