Japan, Uzbekistan to conduct joint uranium exploration

Japan and Uzbekistan will conduct joint uranium exploration in the Central Asian country, industry ministry officials said Friday, in a move that is likely to secure a stable supply of uranium for Japan's potential restart of nuclear plants.

A deal will be struck next Monday between the Japanese government-run Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corp. and Uzbekistan's Navoi Mining and Metallurgical Combinat, according to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry officials.

The agreement will coincide with a visit by Yukari Sato, parliamentary vice minister of trade, to Central Asia from Sunday.

Japan completely relies on overseas imports of uranium that is used in its nuclear plants, most of which are offline now following the 2011 nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant.

Under the deal, JOGMEC and the Uzbekistan's state-run entity will conduct joint exploration for about five years and verify the amount and quality of uranium deposits in Uzbekistan.

Once Japan sees there is potential in mining high-quality uranium there, its plan is to secure concession rights and export the material to Japan and other countries through entities such as trading houses, the officials said.

With only a few countries such as Canada and Australia having concessions in uranium, Japan is apparently struggling with the issue of how to diversify its uranium import sources and secure a stable supply of uranium.