Japanese Interest in African Uranium Grows


"Itochu's sights now set on international uranium resources."

Japanese stakeholders are competing aggressively for alternative fuel sources and clean energy assets, demonstrating their desire for exposure to these international mining interests. Over the last month, JVs between Japanese and foreign investors have been represented in three enterprises strategically aligning on similar international lithium projects. Lithium has seen significant demand increases for its properties of energy storage and application in cell phones, laptops and personal communication devices; however, the mineral's largest potential growth source remains in production and marketing of batteries for electric vehicles.

Last week Japan's fourth-largest trading house, Itochu Corp., announced that it has taken a 20% stake in a U.S. project to produce lithium and that it expects to start sample shipments for use in car batteries by the end of this year.

Now the Japanese firm has its sights set on uranium resources, too. On July 12, Itochu announced that its wholly owned Australian subsidiary, Nippon Uranium Resources, is investing a total of $137.9M in Namibia's Rössing South. Also known as 'the Husab uranium project,' the project is described by Itochu as one of the world's largest uranium projects and is currently being developed by Extract Resources. Feasibility studies are ongoing and, once operational, it's expected to produce 5700 tons of uranium annually by 2014.

The latest investment makes Itochu a 10.3% shareholder of Extract, the third largest investor behind Kalahari Minerals and Rio Tinto. In May 2010, Itochu acquired a 14.9% stake in Kalahari Minerals, which was already the main shareholder of Extract. The company said in its press release "as a significant shareholder of leading uranium companies, Itochu envisions contributing greatly to the stable supply of uranium to Japan." The final sale of shares in the uranium exploration company is subject to relevant approvals by shareholders and Australia's Foreign Investment Review Board.

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