Peak Uranium

Sometimes the pro-uranium lobby really has to make you wonder if even thinking too much about radioactive substances damages the brain.

Reading pro-nuke people, who are very much like peak oil denialists, only about 5 years further away from the day that they realize with a cold chill that uranium is also a finite resource.

I have to admit, reading pro nuke people makes me slightly ill, their level of almost willful self-delusion is pathetic, as is their desperate attempt to throw all their eggs in the nuke basket, despite the evidence of reality.

Happily for us, at least one group out there made some studies on uranium, to see how the situation looked. From a study done in 2007:

Hence, today’s uranium price of 130 USD/lb is reflected in 0.005 EUR per kWh in electricity costs. Should the uranium oxide price increase to 500 USD per pound, the increase in generation costs would already be 0.025 EUR/kWh, which would represent a dramatic 50% to 70% increase in power costs. Critical voices, however, see the economic power generating costs due to nuclear waste and pollution as being much greater than the 0.03 – 0.04 EUR/kWh quoted above.

Anyone believing that such high uranium prices are a figment of the imagination should consider the rapid price increases in recent years, while bearing in mind that about one third of the uranium required comes from existing stocks which will be used up in the near future. If worldwide uranium extraction cannot be expanded by at least 50% in the next 5-10 years, uranium will inevitably be in short supply.

Reserves are shrinking. Only about 60% of uranium needed is mined; the remaining 40% come from reserves, a large part of which accumulated as Russian nuclear weapon material stocks were run down after 1990. The Russian contracts to supply the USA expire in 2013, and Russia has already announced that it does not intend to extend them. (see, e.g.

This means that in order to satisfy current needs, world production must increase by about 50%. However, this is becoming increasingly difficult as more easily-accessible deposits are worked out, and as merely mines with low ore content are left to be developed. New deposits are being exploited more slowly than was envisaged because of unforeseen problems, and are proving to be more expensive than originally calculated. A good example is the largest, and only, project with good-quality ore at Cigar Lake in Canada. The original planning foresaw ore extraction beginning in 2007, but water broke in several times resulting in the mine being completely flooded in October 2006. The mine operators now hope that ore extraction will begin at the end of 2010 or 2011. Some observers believe that the mine may have to be given up entirely.
The Energy Watch Group, Uranium costs – Electricity costs

You can also read the entire original uranium supply whitepaper.

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 frame, 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 of below 0.1% and two-thirds of the reserves have ore grades of below 0.06%. This is important as the energy requirement for uranium mining is at best indirectly proportional to the ore concentration and with concentrations of 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 the 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, only 42 kt/yr of the current uranium demand of 67 kt/yr are supplied by new production, the remaining 25 kt/yr are 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??

If only 42 kt/yr of the proved reserves below 40 $/kt can be converted into production volumes, then supply problems are likely even before 2020. 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.

Notice the thorium numbers and development time frame. That’s important, because I find that pro-nuke zealots and corporate shills (remember, most pro nuke types are either nuclear industry types or a sub-class of humanity that believes we can continue to destroy the planet’s resources endlessly, as long as we can just use nuclear energy instead of coal/oil/natural gas, etc) tend to promote non-existent, often merely theoretical, technologies as a solutions for now, today, and rarely will actually admit this fact until pushed to the wall. My guess however is that most heavily pro nuke types are actually just nuclear industry employees, investors, etc.

The issue of nuclear waste is likewise whitewashed, but happily does not really enter into this peak uranium discussion at all, since we’re talking about real resource constraints here, not debating about how much waste materials is stored, and how long it remaings toxically radioactive for. We are also not talking about accidents like Three Mile Island or Chernobyl, which are of course just ‘exceptions’, and which ‘could never happen today with today’s safety equipment’.

But just leave it at this: today’s pro nuke people are repeating exactly, word for word, what yesterday’s peak oil denialists were saying about crude oil production levels. Word for word.

Uranium is a finite resource just like anything else, only more so

Uranium is not an easy to find, mine, or extract, resource.

If you want to start entering into reality, a good place to start is the EIA Uranium resource page

Here you can learn fascinating facts like that in 2007 the USA imported (in Million Pounds U3O8 Equivalent) 47 million pounds and had only 4 million pounds of domestic uranium production. Whoops. And that’s just the civilian sector. So again, no way we’ll get any kind of energy self-sufficiency here.

Currently its production does not seem to be in an active peak mode, and prices are remaining relatively stable compared to other energy commodities, but just wait until the world starts to seriously ramp up nuclear power plant production, then you’ll start to see the standard growth curves apply to uranium stocks as well.

Uranium Resources

Along with the EIA above, try these:

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