Uranium – the missing ingredient for a global switch to nuclear energy + thorium information

Posted: August 9th, 2010 by: h2

I’m just going to quote this in-depth. Even though the person being interviewed is promoting his own interests, nothing he is saying as far as i can tell is inaccurate, and I’ve read the same thing elsewhere, repeatedly.


So without further ado, here’s part of an interview with Bill Powers (please note that this appears to be an automatically generated transcription, ie, it’s not very accurate):

Interviewer: A whole lot of newsletters cover oil and gas, but you picked uranium, which hardly anyone was covering until recently?

Bill Powers: I feel the uranium market right now could be the world’s most unbalanced commodity market. Inside a sense, the planet, by means of the nuclear power industry, consumes approximately 172 million pounds of uranium per year, as well as the planet only produces about 92 million pounds of uranium per year. The supply deficit is produced up through above-ground inventories, which are becoming worked down pretty quickly. Individuals numbers were supplied by Uranium Info Center. A great deal of my information arrives through the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) or the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. For example, I discovered from them that the U.S. made, through the 1980s, about 43.seven million pounds of uranium. And by 2002, the U.S. only created about 2.34 million pounds of uranium.

Interviewer: Exactly where is uranium being created in the United States?

Bill Powers: Wyoming. There’s also a uranium facility in Nebraska. I think there are two in-situ leach plants in Wyoming and an additional 1 in Nebraska. There are a couple of phosphate farmers in Florida who generate uranium. I believe there can be a facility in Texas that also produces uranium. For that most part, the uranium business in New Mexico has just about been wiped out. The extremely low rates that we’ve seen, for about twenty years, have pretty a lot wiped out the entire U.S. uranium market. To go from over 43 million pounds to less than 2.five million pounds, it has truly only allowed the most productive, highest margin and most efficient mines in the nation to continue operating in that environment.

Interviewer: So that makes the U.S. a net importer of uranium?

Bill Powers: Absolutely. According to the DOE, US imports have gone from 3.6 million pounds per year in 1980 to 52.7 million pounds per year in 2002. A lot of it comes from Canada, but a significant amount is coming through the Russians, through a program referred to as HEU (highly enriched uranium): the megatons to megawatts program. It is where the United States Enrichment Corporation, as nicely as its partner in Russia, took highly enriched uranium and broke it down into reduced grade uranium that could be marketed to nuclear power businesses throughout North America and around the planet. This has been a single of the reasons we’ve had reduced prices. All of this uranium has cluttered the marketplace the past handful of many years. As well as the US Enrichment Corporation has a lot to do with why we’ve seen low uranium costs here in the States. I had a conversation with them about the fact that because 1998, when they became a public business (right after becoming a company that was owned through the U.S. government), their long-term inventories of uranium had declined. When they became a private corporation, the U.S. government gave them seven,000 tons of enriched uranium and 50 tons of highly enriched uranium. They have been promoting about 6 million pounds of uranium into the marketplace each and every year because 1998. According to my conversation with them, they have about three to four much more many years of promoting. It is simply because the US Enrichment Corporation wants to get out of the uranium storage business, and they want being within the processing company.

For some reason, a certain type of person becomes increasingly delusional when it comes to energy production and nuclear power. Almost like fairy tales except using mystical sources of energy instead of dragons and emperors, or future scenarios that currently do not yet exist in production, ie, in the real world.

Note that these consumption levels include France, Sweden, and the USA, but do NOT include new plants coming online. In other words, the future isn’t looking so great re uranium supplies.

As for the mystical thorium, take a quick read of the Norwegian study on the viability of thorium as a nuclear fuel (PDF 2008 report). Read the executive summary chapter to get a good overview.

Here’s their final recommendations:

1. No technology should be idolized or demonized. All carbon-dioxide (CO2) emission-free energy production technologies should be considered. The potential contribution of nuclear energy to a sustainable energy future should be recognized.
2. An investigation into the resources in the Fen Complex and other sites in Norway should be performed. It is essential to assess whether thorium in Norwegian rocks can be defined as an economical asset for the benefit of future generations. Furthermore, the application of new technologies for the extraction of thorium from the available mineral sources should be studied.
3. Testing of thorium fuel in the Halden Reactor should be encouraged, taking benefit of the well recognized nuclear fuel competence in Halden.
4. Norway should strengthen its participation in international collaborations by joining the Euratom fission program and the GIF program on Generation IV reactors suitable for the use of thorium.
5. The development of an Accelerator Driven System (ADS) using thorium is not within the capability of Norway working alone. Joining the European effort in this field should be considered. Norwegian research groups should be encouraged to participate in relevant international projects, although these are currently focused on waste management.
6. Norway should bring its competence in waste management up to an international standard and collaboration with Sweden and Finland could be beneficial.
7. Norway should bring its competence with respect to dose assessment related to the thorium cycle up to an international standard.
8. Since the proliferation resistance of uranium-233 depends on the reactor and reprocessing technologies, this aspect will be of key concern should any thorium reactor be built in Norway.
9. Any new nuclear activities in Norway, e.g. thorium fuel cycles, would need strong international pooling of human resources, and in the case of thorium, a strong long-term commitment in university education and basic science. All these should be included in the country level strategy aiming to develop new sustainable energy sources. However, to meet the challenge related to the new nuclear era in Europe, Norway should secure its competence within nuclear sciences and nuclear engineering fields. This includes additional permanent staff at the universities and research institutes and appropriate funding for new research and development as well as a high quality research-based Master and PhD education.

nuclear engineering fields. This includes additional permanent staff at the universities and research institutes and appropriate funding for new research and development as well as a high quality research-based Master and PhD education.

And here’s a shorter summary.

A 2008 Norwegian study summarised the advantages and disadvantages of an ADS fuelled by thorium, relative to a conventional nuclear power reactor, as follows, and said that such a system was not likely to operate in the next 30 years:

Advantages Disadvantages
Much smaller production of long-lived actinides
Minimal probability of runaway reaction
Efficient burning of minor actinides
Low pressure system
More complex (with accelerator)
Less reliable power production due to accelerator downtime
Large production of volatile radioactive isotopes in the spallation target
The beam tube may break containment barriers

No panacea, no magic pill, but a possible future mode of nuclear energy, using, again, another finite raw material, to burn up until it too is gone. But I’d guess it will be used, since mankind simply will not accept that less can be more, and quality could possibly just be more important than quantity.

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