Gold/Mining/Energy : What is Thorium
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From: Yorikke1/23/2009 1:59:35 PM
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PSUs losing first mover advantage in nuclear powerAnil Sasi | Monday, 19 January , 2009, 10:32

New Delhi: Amid growing opportunities in the newly-opened nuclear power sector, State-owned Indian firms are losing the initiative to their private sector counterparts.

While private players such as Punj Lloyd and Larsen & Toubro have already drawn first blood in the nuclear reactor sector by tying up with US firms Thorium Power and Toshiba-owned Westinghouse Electric Co respectively for technology collaborations, State-owned equipment major Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd (BHEL) is still in the process of identifying a partner for the new Light Water Reactor-based projects on the anvil.

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In the field of uranium sourcing, close on the heels of a little-known Mumbai-based Taurian Resources bagging uranium mining rights in Niger, Jindal Steel & Power, through a Mauritius-based unit, has bought over a uranium mine in Mongolia from a Canadian firm, even as State-owned monopoly Uranium Corporation of India Ltd (UCIL) is still to get off the block in its attempts to secure blocks abroad.

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“The first mover advantage is definitely important in a newly opened up sector. In the nuclear sector, the odds are actually in favour of public sector players and firms such as UCIL and BHEL started out as overwhelming favourites to cash in on the opportunities due to their expertise in the nuclear business and their State-owned status. Despite this, private sector players are getting the first mover advantage,” a senior Central Electricity Authority official said.

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Punj Lloyd, in December last, had started a 50:50 joint venture company with the US-based Thorium Power Ltd with the aim of combining Punj Lloyd’s expertise in EPC work and Thorium Power’s technological expertise in the use of thorium as fuel to generate nuclear power. L&T, on Friday, entered into an agreement with Westinghouse Electric to build nuclear power plants in the country deploying the latter’s AP1000 pressurised water reactors.

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Uranium assets

Meanwhile, in the race to grab uranium assets abroad, private sector players have set the ball rolling, even as UCIL is scouting across various geographies ranging across Central Asia, Africa and Canada for possible assets.

Both Jindal Steel & Power and Taurian Resources have managed to secure uranium assets in non-NSG countries, with both Mongolia and Niger not part of the 45-nation nuclear cartel. The passage of the Indo-US nuclear deal has opened up avenues for Indian firms to hunt for uranium assets in NSG countries as well.

Jindal Steel & Power (Mauritius) Ltd, late last year, had bought over the entire stake in a uranium asset in Mongolia jointly owned by Canadian firms Bluerock Resources Ltd and Uranerz Energy Corp for round $2.6 million late last year. Mongolia sits on about two per cent of the world’s uranium reserves.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, all Mongolian uranium mines were initially abandoned, but of late, Japanese firms have been showing interest in securing uranium blocks in the land-locked nation. Marubeni Corporation, Japan’s fifth largest trading company, was recently granted preferential rights in certain Mongolian uranium mines.

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Taurian Resources had earlier bagged exclusive rights for exploration and mining of uranium in the Arlit region of Niger, which is the fifth largest supplier of uranium globally. China is already a big investor in Niger, with Chinese firms having bagged a series of exploration licences in the past in the African country.
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