Uranium resources for at least a century

20 July 2010

Worldwide uranium resources, production and demand are all increasing, according to the latest edition of the Red Book. However, total identified uranium resources will last for over 100 years at current consumption rates. 


The amount of uranium identified that can be economically mined rose to some 6.3 million tonnes, a 15.5% increase compared with the last edition of Uranium 2009: Resources, Production and Demand - commonly known as the Red Book - published every two years by the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).


The high-cost category (under $100 per pound of U3O8) was reintroduced into the new edition of the Red Book for the first time since the 1980s in response to the generally increased market prices for uranium in recent years (despite the decline since mid-2007), as well as increasing mining costs and expectations of increasing demand as new nuclear power plants are being planned and constructed.


The NEA commented: "Although total identified resources have increased overall, there has been a significant reduction in lower-cost resources owing to increased mining costs."


"The recognition by an increasing number of governments that nuclear power can produce competitively priced, baseload electricity that is essentially free of greenhouse gas emissions, coupled with the role that nuclear can play in enhancing security of energy supply, increases the prospects for growth in nuclear generating capacity, although the magnitude of that growth remains to be determined," the NEA noted.


IAEA projections for the future of nuclear power see it expanding from 375 GWe today to between 500 and 785 GWe by 2035. Such growth would cause an increase in uranium demand from 66,500 tonnes per year to between 87,370 and 138,165 tonnes.


"Even in the high-growth scenario to 2035, less than half of the identified resources described in this edition would be consumed," the NEA concluded. "The challenge remains to develop mines in a timely and environmentally sustainable fashion as uranium demand increases. A strong market will be required for these resources to be developed within the time frame required to meet future uranium demand."


Worldwide exploration and mine development expenditures in 2008 totalled over $1.6 billion, an increase of 133% compared to updated 2006 figures, despite declining market prices since mid-2007. Most major producing countries reported increasing expenditures, as efforts to identify new resources and bring new production centres online moved forward.


"As observed in the past, increased investment in exploration has resulted in important discoveries and the identification of new resources," the NEA said. "It is foreseen that, if market conditions improve further, additional exploration will be stimulated leading to the identification of additional resources of economic interest."


"While the status of supply and demand is considered from today's technologies perspective, it should be recognised that the deployment of advanced reactor and fuel cycle technologies can positively affect the long-term availability of uranium and could conceivably extend it to thousands of years," the NEA noted.


Researched and written 

by World Nuclear News 


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