It’s not just commodities that are on the rise. The costs of our energy dependence follow the same trend. It only took a doubling of gas prices in Kazakhstan for this mechanism to remember us. Kazakhstan, a country that few people can point to a map, is best known for its Astana cycling team. For connoisseurs, the former member of the Soviet Union is a real Ali Baba’s cave. Its soil contains oil, gas, uranium, many rare earths that go into the manufacture of solar panels, wind turbines or batteries of our electric cars, potassium essential for agriculture and finally, supreme delight. , gold!
What to portray a prosperous nation. It is not so. On January 1, the government doubled gas prices. Instantly, the people expressed their opposition and their fed up with the corruption characteristic of a country rich in raw materials. The Kazakh “yellow vests” succeeded in bending the regime. The increases were quickly withdrawn. However, some did not want to stop there. It did not take more for President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev to express his intention to see the demonstrators exterminated by live ammunition and to propose to the Russian army to establish a muscular order. If, diplomatically, this way of doing things was denounced, it was a relief and a sweet music in the ears of many Western and Chinese leaders.
40% of the uranium market
Indeed, Kazakhstan is the largest exporter of uranium with a market share of 40%. A disruption in delivery has the potential to cough up 450 nuclear reactors around the world. The impact is all the stronger as 80% of global uranium extraction comes from just four countries, including Niger, which is also under political tension. By the way, natural gas does not do any better with two-thirds of the world’s extraction in the hands of six countries.
Thus, in the concert of reactions, two governments symbolized the concept of energy independence. Freed from uranium needs, Germany has shown its firmness and confirmed the cessation of its arms exports to Kazakhstan. In contrast, President Emmanuel Macron called for “an end to violence” and “restraint”. It is true that France is not in a comfortable position. Orano, formerly Areva, operates uranium mines in Kazakhstan as well as in Niger to supply its nuclear power plants. Part of the annual 900 million euros of the Barkane military force in Mali is intended to guarantee the flow of uranium. Without Niger and Kazakhstan, France would share the electric destiny of Lebanon. For its part, it is a safe bet that Berlin would not have said a word if the gas delivered by Russia had been involved.
Return to a certain level of independence
Little by little, the world of energy is tightening up. The lack of investment in the exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons coupled with the progressive depletion of the deposits will exacerbate realpolitik and extreme scenarios. The eight-fold increase in gas prices, at the push of Russia, would have been unimaginable a few years ago. It has become reality without Europe being able to react. The costs of our energy dependence continue to climb and today touch the threshold of pain.
After several decades, where we have forgotten to cultivate our own local energy, a return to a certain level of independence could emerge as an attractive alternative. This path would be all the more judicious for small countries like Switzerland, which will have less and less say in the chapter on the international energy scene. The New Year in Kazakhstan has just brought more clues to the trends to come. It is a safe bet that, on this theme, the year 2022 will be an excellent year.