In Quotes: Bannerman’s Brandon Munro on war’s impact on uranium sector, plus how to best sell the benefits of nuclear

20 March 2023

​In a wide-ranging interview for the World Nuclear News podcast, Bannerman Energy’s CEO Brandon Munro outlined the major changes in the global uranium and wider nuclear fuel sector as a result of the Russia-Ukraine war - and gives his advice on winning people over to nuclear energy.

Brandon Munro (Image: @BannermanEnergy/Twitter)

Here is an edited transcript of parts of the World Nuclear News podcast, which you can also listen to via the embedded player below or on any podcast players.

The impact of the war on nuclear energy sector

"The conflict has had a profound impact, in the form of a reset of the importance of energy security. For the past 15 years, the only priority for decision makers when it came to energy, particularly in Europe, has been what I would call a distorted - because it ignored nuclear power - form of the decarbonisation imperative. We're now learning that was a terrible mistake, both for the world's climate goals but also as events in Ukraine have shown … what we now see is that policy-makers have remembered, or perhaps relearnt, what they knew back in the 1970s during the oil crisis, and certainly learned after the Second World War - that energy security really matters. And this pivot that we've seen from policy-makers towards the virtues of energy security from a nuclear point of view, is very positive. Nuclear energy offers a superior form of energy security because a country or nation can store and secure many years of its fuel supply inside its own borders, and also because of the long term nature of the fuel cycle, countries and nuclear operators can stabilise the commercial terms on which they can deliver electricity, so it offers both a geopolitical stability and also a commercial stability, and that's now being recognised - and it's recognised at a time where the electorate is more open towards nuclear power, particularly those who are feeling the impacts of this crisis, either personally or in their hip pocket, and also the scientific communities."




What about the impact on the uranium market?

"Russia isn't as dominant in uranium as it is, for example, in enrichment or conversion. But it has had an impact … it's accelerated the need for both geopolitical and commercial diversity in their sector - it's extraordinary that the unsubstitutable fuel source for 10% of the world's electricity is generated, to the vast majority, from only five countries and only four commercial producers. That's a concentration of supply at both a geopolitical level and a commercial level that has been brought into the spotlight because of these geopolitical events and as a result of that, the structure of the uranium market will need to change so that there can be more diversity. What it's also done is, because this conflict has been in the news cycle now for a full year, it's also brought a lot of attention and a lot of eyeballs to uranium as an investment proposition. And therefore what we're seeing is the continued emergence of physical uranium investors. And because of the very positive growth in nuclear power’s prospects … into the medium and longer term, there's now anticipated to be a significant growth in the demand for uranium."

How significant is Cameco’s Westinghouse deal?

"It's fantastic news. The Canadians like to talk about skating in the direction of where the puck’s going, and I think Cameco have certainly done that. The single most important fact is they've brought Brookfield Renewables into their business, into a nuclear business, into a nuclear fuels business. Brookfield Renewables are arguably the largest single renewables investor in the world and they've now confirmed and asserted something that inside the nuclear industry we've always regarded as being somewhat obvious - that nuclear power is a renewable energy and should be seen alongside intermittent renewable energies and other clean energy technologies. So the fact that they've now come out as an investor with a purely renewables focused fund in the nuclear sector and in the nuclear fuel cycle, not only sends a very strong message, but it also becomes an enabler for other similar funds from the massive ones, right down to the smaller ESG focused funds. I think what Brookfield Renewables have done is send a very strong message to all of those fund managers who like nuclear power, and like uranium as an investment case and as a means of addressing the world's biggest challenges, that they can now go ahead without any fear of stepping on the wrong side of ESG mandates. Now, what that does is that unleashes a wall of capital that's very badly needed in our sector."

On Bannerman Energy’s flagship Etango Project in Namibia

"The project's progressing really well. We've been at it for 18 years - we drilled the first holes there. It's an unusual situation in the mining game to have the company carry forward with an asset all the way through to development and construction. Normally it gets sort of passed from a specialist discovery geologist to resource geologist to feasibility people ultimately to commercial players who can fund and develop a mine. We've made a long term commitment to the asset and to Namibia and we now find ourselves gearing up for financing the project, we completed a definitive feasibility study, which is the final phase of engineering and financial and environmental feasibility that was delivered to the market in December. So we were really pleased with that and we've also achieved all of our environmental permits which can be difficult to get in the uranium sector because of various sensitivities. So we're very pleased to have all of that behind us. And now what's in front of us is the Namibian government and granting us a mining licence, which we anticipate in the next months. And moving forward with long term contracting and financing the project."

How do you see nuclear sector potential in Africa?

"For existing uranium producers - predominantly Namibia and Niger, also South Africa - I would say it’s a unique opportunity to play a bigger role in solving the world’s key energy questions. I would certainly expect to see Namibia become a significantly larger producer and bear in mind it's already the world's third largest producer, but it has all of the ingredients to become a much bigger producer. It's a fantastic operating environment, with an excellent environmental record that goes back for the 46 years … it's stable, it's politically aligned with the West's values. It's a fabulous country. Niger, likewise, is crying out for development, and there's a number of development projects there that I would love to see get up and play a bigger role. Now the challenge though, is that for a new uranium producing country in an environment like Africa, there's a great deal of regulation, both internal and multilateral regulation that needs to be in place … that can be a real challenge for developing countries."

Future prospects for the global nuclear sector in the years ahead

"I'm very positive. Since COP26, what the industry has understood in terms of the tremendous value that nuclear power offers is now being better understood by the broader policy makers and also right down to their constituencies. We're not yet seeing a media environment where I think nuclear is given a fair go, at least on a broad basis, but that's also changing. Enthusiasm for intermittent renewable energy sources offering all of the solutions to all of the problems is starting to wear thin and people are understanding, particularly in the mining game, that there's an enormous draw of minerals required to produce solar panels, to produce wind turbines, certainly to produce the batteries … and in mining circles, because we know where those minerals are roughly and how much is required to get them out of the ground, there's an anticipation of enormous price inflation of those minerals, as global demand based on current policy projections start to bite. Nuclear has the fantastic advantage that it is light on the consumption of minerals to build a nuclear power plant that lasts for 60, potentially 80, years and takes proportionately less extracted materials out of the world going from right from concrete through to copper, than any other energy source. And the amount of minerals, predominantly uranium, required to drive a nuclear power station, is vastly less than its other baseload equivalents. So that is only just starting to be understood outside mining circles. And I think as that starts to become understood in the wider population … I can see a rapid escalation in the acceptance and therefore roll out of nuclear power across the major markets in the world. And having spent so much time in Africa I see firsthand what the just energy transition means in practice - millions of people whose aspiration is to have secure housing with basics like a washing machine, perhaps a TV. For that to occur there will be an enormous increase in the demand for electricity in particular. And nuclear power can play a profound role in ensuring that those nations’ development aspirations can be attained without bursting the carbon bank accounts of their countries."

What is the best way to change minds towards nuclear energy?

"It's a complex issue that has many individual issues, but for me it really just comes down to education. I've spoken to many, many, many people about nuclear power over the last 15 years in particular, and I haven't met a single person who has gone on the journey of attempting to understand nuclear power, who's emerged from it being anti. And that's because the facts speak for themselves. The problem here is the education has largely been left only to either the industry, such as World Nuclear Association, or a handful of incredibly dedicated non-aligned advocates. Governments have really not taken any responsibility for educating the population and, in Australia … I was taught at school that nuclear power was evil and weren't we lucky to be in a country that didn't have it. And the whole basis for that, I now understand to be utterly false. So the education solution comes down to discussions and conversations really to grassroots level. So conversations with my hairdresser or my physiotherapist .. you'll be really surprised that once the ‘taboo’ subject is breached, a lot of people are either 'actually, I agree with that, you're absolutely right', or they're curious. The number of people who are dyed-in-the-yarn opponents is becoming smaller and smaller, and some of the most prominent of those people from the 70s have now realised that nuclear power is an important part of the solution and most young people see nuclear tech as kind of cool - they don't have the burden of their parents’ ideas about nuclear energy ... they're the groups who are very astute at educating people through social media channels, they're the groups who are becoming influencers of their own and I think what industry, but also just concerned citizens who genuinely count themselves as being supportive of climate change mitigation, they've got a kind of civil duty to talk more about nuclear energy, to evaluate nuclear energy on its merits, on its scientific merit. So I think that of all of the complex challenges around increasing public support for nuclear energy, I think the one that's accessible to us all as a solution is peer-to-peer education. Have those conversations."

Researched and written by World Nuclear News