Uranium has taken Rio for a rough ride on its Roughrider deposit. Photo: Glenn Campbell
RIO Tinto's most recent acquisition could be among those written down next month when the miner reveals full details of the $US14 billion in impairments that cost chief executive Tom Albanese his job.
The massive round of impairments will include a write-down of between $US10 billion and $US11 billion against Rio's aluminium assets, and about $US3 billion against its coal assets in Mozambique.
But there are certain to be other parts of Rio's vast global empire to wear an impairment after the company said there would also be ''a number of smaller asset write-downs in the order of $US500 million''.
Australian analysts believe one of those smaller write-downs could be against the Canadian uranium deposits acquired by Rio just over one year ago in its $638 million acquisition of Canadian junior Hathor Exploration.
That deal gave Rio a prospective uranium deposit called Roughrider, but only after a bidding war with uranium major Cameco that saw the two rivals swap improved bids several times.
Upon conceding defeat to Rio just 14 months ago, Cameco chief executive Tim Gitzel said beating Rio's offer would have been ''too much to pay for that asset''.
While Rio thought it was buying the asset at the bottom of the uranium market - which had been badly depressed after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 2011 - it was soon proved wrong when prices for sales of uranium fell by close to 15 per cent in 2013.
The spot price for uranium was hovering around $US48 per pound for most of 2012, but has spent the start of the new year mostly below $US42 per pound, despite seemingly positive signs for the commodity's longer term prospects in both Japan and China in recent months.
While any impairment against Hathor would be financially small compared to those levelled against Rio's aluminium and coal assets, it would be symbolically important given the understood relationship between Mr Albanese and his chairman Jan du Plessis.
It is widely believed that Mr du Plessis was willing to consider the aluminium failure as a kind of ''first strike'' for Mr Albanese, given that the acquisition occurred prior to Mr de Plessis' arrival as chairman.
But failed acquisitions during his tenure as chairman were to be judged much more harshly, as proved this week when the smaller Mozambique write-down was portrayed as the prime factor in Mr Albanese's sacking.
A full explanation of Rio's impairments will come on February 14 when the company reveals its annual results in London.
At 55 years of age, many people believe Mr Albanese could have many years ahead of him in the corporate world, and Pengana Capital resources fund manager Tim Schroeders said Mr Albanese would be a good fit on the board of rival mining majors, perhaps even BHP Billiton.
''In terms of a chief executive role, I think BHP would be copping too much flack if they appointed him. But at some stage, with the benefit of time and experience, he is probably a very valuable candidate for someone like the BHP board,'' Mr Schroeders said.
''There is no doubt the guy has good experience, understands markets and has probably got some wonderful insights in terms of relationships with the Chinese and other key countries.
''I'm sure he would be a valuable non-executive director and probably very well sought-after I would imagine.''
Rio already boasts former BHP chief financial officer Chris Lynch on its list of non-executive directors.