Mitsui signs accord to explore Uzbekistan uranium

Thursday, July 17, 2008

TOKYO, July 17 (Reuters) - Mitsui & Co, Japan's second-largest trading firm, and Uzbekistan agreed on Thursday to look at forming a joint venture for the exploration of uranium in the Central Asian country.

Securing new exploration projects in Central Asia is key to Japan, which relies on nuclear power for over 25 percent of its electricity. It currently imports some 60 percent of its uranium from Australia and Canada.

Mitsui was granted exclusive negotiating rights for 18 months with Uzbekistan's state-owned Goscomgeology for the development of the Zapadno-Kokpatasskaya mine in the central part of the country, Mitsui said in a statement.

If they reach a final agreement, exploration would run for about three years and all of the uranium concentrates produced would be sold to overseas electric power companies.

Mitsui said it would also cooperate in marketing uranium concentrates and other by-products from the discovery.

Uzbekistan is the world's seventh-largest producer of uranium, producing about 2,500 tonnes per year, Mitsui said.

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the country holds 93,000 tonnes of deposits, equivalent to about 3 percent of the world's uranium resources.

Uzbekistan has been wooing resource-poor Japan since last year to deepen cooperation and jointly explore the country's uranium reserves.

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