Cameco claims nuclear 'pole position' as Russia's grip weakens

Cameco says the global nuclear industry today has significant reliance on Russia as President Vladimir Putin wages war in Ukraine. (Sputnik/Alexei Babushkin/Kremlin via REUTERS)
Cameco says the global nuclear industry today has significant reliance on Russia as President Vladimir Putin wages war in Ukraine. (Sputnik/Alexei Babushkin/Kremlin via REUTERS)

Canadian uranium miner Cameco's (CCO.TO)(CCJ) deal to buy the Westinghouse Electric Company (WEC) will give it a "pole position" in nuclear markets historically served by Russia, executives said on Thursday.

CEO Tim Gitzel describes nations in Eastern Europe "turning away from the Russians" and "looking for a substitute" to meet their nuclear energy needs.

"That substitute is Westinghouse," he said on a post-earnings conference call with analysts. "They're very active in Ukraine today. There's [the] Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and many of those Eastern European countries we think are potential business for Westinghouse, and quite frankly, for Cameco."

Earlier this month, Saskatoon-based Cameco and Brookfield Renewable Partners (BEP-UN.TO) agreed to buy WEC for US$4.5 billion, plus debt, from another unit of Brookfield, and its institutional partners.

The deal for one of the most storied names in the American power industry is expected to close in the second half of 2023. Cameco's 49 per cent stake in WEC, as defined under the terms, would give Canada's largest uranium miner more direct access to customers through one of the world's biggest nuclear service providers. However, the company's stock fell after the transaction was announced.

Cameco says the global nuclear industry today has significant reliance on Russia as President Vladimir Putin wages war in Ukraine. Gitzel estimates the country controls 39 per cent of enrichment capacity, and 14 per cent of uranium concentrates supply.

"Utilities are now considering and planning a variety of potential scenarios, ranging from an abrupt end to Russian supply, to a gradual phase out," he said. "It's still early days, but we are already seeing some utilities pivot towards procurement strategies that more carefully weigh the origin risk."

"Westinghouse enjoys the pole position . . . having the certified and verified ability to produce the VVER fuel," said Cameco chief financial officer Grant Isaac, referring to a series of pressurized water reactor designs originally developed in the former Soviet Union. "What we want to do is help provide those Western solutions to those markets looking to turn away [from Russia]."

Toronto-listed Cameco shares were little-changed on Thursday, dipping 0.80 per cent to $35.65 as at 11:05 a.m. ET. The stock has climbed about 23 per cent year-to-date, owing in part to rising concern about global energy security and increasing acceptance of nuclear power as a means to reduce carbon emissions.

To that end, Isaac referenced recent comments by Mark Carney, the former central banker who now heads Brookfield Asset Management transition fund.

"You saw Mark Carney say . . . there is no path to net zero that doesn't involve nuclear power. So you are seeing a pretty powerful awakening there," he said on Thursday's call. "A broader base of investors is paying attention to this critical clean energy."

Cameco reported third-quarter financial results on Thursday, booking a $20 million loss for the period ended Sept. 30, compared to a $72 million loss in the same quarter last year. The company says this reflects normal quarterly variations in contract deliveries, and efforts to ramp up production by 2024. Revenue for the quarter increased eight per cent year-over-year.

Jeff Lagerquist is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow him on Twitter @jefflagerquist.

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