(New York) The price of uranium hit its highest level in nearly 17 years on Friday, driven by tight supply and accelerating demand amid renewed interest in nuclear energy.

The benchmark contract for uranium oxide, called U3O8 (named after its chemical formula) and which, once enriched, serves as nuclear fuel, rose to $85.75 per pound (about 450 grams). , a first since January 2007.

France, Belgium, the United Kingdom and Romania have recently authorized the extension of the operation of several existing power plants.

The Californian utility regulator (CPUC) on Thursday validated the five-year extension of the life of the two Diablo Canyon reactors, located northwest of Los Angeles and which were initially scheduled to close in 2024 and 2025.

New projects have also been launched, particularly in China (25 reactors under construction) but also in India, Turkey and Egypt.

At the same time, “supply hasn’t really kept up,” says Jonathan Hinze, president of nuclear industry research firm UxC.

He cites in particular Kazakhstan, by far the world’s leading producer of uranium (43% of supply in 2022, according to the World Nuclear Association), which has faced logistical problems, in particular a shortage of acid sulfuric, used for extraction.

Some 58,000 tonnes of uranium were mined in 2022 worldwide.

The market is also worried, according to the analyst, about the military coup in Niger, which ensured 4% of global production in 2022.

Added to this is the vote on Monday by the American House of Representatives for an embargo on Russian uranium (5% of world production), which put a little more tension on operators. The text must still be examined in the Senate.

Superimposed on all of these factors is the emergence of financial players who accumulate significant reserves and drive up prices.

The largest of them being the Canadian Sprott, which controlled, at the end of June, nearly 28,000 tonnes of the precious ore.

To supply the market, mines are reopening in several places around the world, such as in Utah, in the United States.

“Mining will meet demand, but it’s not a process that happens overnight. This will take years,” warns Jonathan Hinze. In the immediate future, “it looks like prices will continue to rise. »