The Heat Is Online

Uranium Reserves Too Low to Solve Energy Shortage: Report



Background paper prepared by the 

EnergyWatch Group (EWG-Series No 1/2006)


The following paper was initiated by Hans-Josef Fell, member of the German parliament




Any forecast of the development of nuclear power in the next 25 years has to concentrate on two aspects, the supply of uranium and the addition of new reactor capacity. At least  within this time horizon, neither nuclear breeding reactors nor thorium reactors will play a significant role because of the long lead times for their development and market penetration.  The analysis of data on uranium resources leads to the assessment that discovered reserves are not sufficient to guarantee the uranium supply for more than thirty years.  Eleven countries have already exhausted their uranium reserves. In total, about 2.3 Mt of uranium have already been produced.


At present only one country (Canada) is left having uranium deposits containing uranium with an ore grade of more than 1%, most of the remaining reserves in other countries have ore grades below 0.1% and two thirds of reserves have ore grades below 0.06%. This is important as the energy requirement for uranium mining is at best indirect proportional to the ore concentration and with concentrations below 0.01-0.02% the energy needed for uranium processing -- over the whole fuel cycle -- increases substantially.


The proved reserves (=reasonably assured below 40 $/kgU extraction cost) and stocks will be exhausted within the next 30 years at current annual demand. Likewise, possible resources -- which contain all estimated discovered resources with extraction costs of up to 130 $/kg -- will be exhausted within 70 years.


At present, of the current uranium demand of 67 kt/yr only 42 kt/yr are supplied by new production, the rest of about 25 kt/yr is drawn from stockpiles which were accumulated before 1980. Since these stocks will be exhausted within the next 10 years, uranium production capacity must increase by at least some 50% in order to match future demand of current capacity.


Recent problems and delays with important new mining projects (e.g. Cigar Lake in Canada) are causing doubts whether these extensions will be completed in time or can be realized at all. In case only the proved reserves below 40 $/kt can be converted into production volumes, then even before 2020 supply problems are likely. If all estimated known resources up to  130 $/kgU extraction cost can be converted into production volumes, a shortage can at best be  delayed until about 2050.


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When presenting the WEO 2006 report the International Energy Agency (IEA) said it was a major argument in the development of the "Alternative Policy Scenario" that the extension of nuclear power plants would be an efficient instrument to combat climate change.


This is in striking contrast to the results in the report because according to the report nuclear energy is considered to be the least efficient measure in combating greenhouse warming: in the "Alternative Policy Scenario" the projected reduction of GHG emissions by about 6 billion t of carbon dioxide is primarily due to improved energy efficiency (contributing 65% of the reduction), 13% are due to fuel switching, 12% are contributed by enhanced use of renewable energies and only 10% are attributed to an enhanced use of nuclear energy.


Full report posted at: