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The unremarkable yellow, powdery stuff used to run nuclear reactors was jolted out of relative obscurity last month as an equally obscure government in Central Asia — that of Kazakhstan — saw its citizens rise against it.

As the country’s largest city, Almaty, was besieged by what the government calls "armed extremists", investors and nuclear reactor operators around the globe watched with bated breath. Why? Kazakhstan is the world’s largest producer of uranium, a mineral that is enriched and then used to generate the energy which heats up water that turns generators in nuclear power stations...

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