Russia eyeing controlling stake in Chile’s Atacama lithium project

Uranium One Group, a subsidiary of Russia’s state nuclear company Rosatom, may buy a controlling stake in a lithium project in Chile’s Atacama salt flat from Wealth Minerals Ltd, the Canada-listed company said on Tuesday.

Under a deal struck with Wealth, the Russian nuclear firm has the option to purchase up to a 51% stake in Wealth’s Atacama project in northern Chile, the statement said.

Chile’s Atacama salt flat, home to leading lithium producers SQM and Albemarle, accounts for around one-third the world’s supply of lithium, a key ingredient in the batteries that power electric vehicles, tablets and cell phones.

Rosatom’s interest in Chile’s lithium industry comes as electric automakers and governments scour the world for the metals needed to power the quickly expanding industry.

Chile, the world’s second biggest producer of lithium, has been slow to ramp up production further amid concerns that mining the white metal, which is found in brine pools beneath the desert floor, could sap scarce water supplies.

Rosatom, the world’s biggest nuclear company by foreign orders, previously offered Chile’s government technology it said could sustainably boost lithium output without taxing water resources, lobbyist transparency filings showed in December.