Table of Contents
The Energy Challenge
Nuclear Power Facts
Nuclear Power Advantages
The Salient Points
Annex I: The DECADES Project
Annex II: Nuclear Power Case Studies
Security of Supply
There are proven reserves of coal sufficient for more than 200 years, of natural gas for 60 years and of oil for 40 years at current levels of use. There are efforts under way to increase the oil and gas resources through improved recovery techniques and oil-shale and tar-sand processing that are estimated to be capable of at least doubling the resource base. Depending on their specific economics, new technologies to further increase fossil fuel extraction could be developed. But, financing of necessary investments and price volatility could then become leading concerns.
Known uranium reserves with reactors operating primarily on a once-through cycle without reprocessing of spent fuel assure a sufficient fuel supply for at least 50 years at current levels of use, the same order of magnitude as today's proven resources of natural gas and oil. Estimates of additional undiscovered (speculative) resources could add more than 100 years. Unconventional uranium resources are also available such as the uranium contained in sea water and phosphates that could increase resources by many multiples of current reserves, but as with speculative fossil reserves, these would not necessarily be an economic energy resource.
Over the long term, recycling plutonium from reprocessed spent fuel in thermal reactors as mixed oxide fuel and the introduction of fast breeder reactors to also convert non-fissionable uranium into plutonium would increase the energy potential of today's known uranium reserves by up to 70 times, enough for more than 3 000 years at today's levels of use. Uranium used in a complete fuel cycle not only maintains, but also significantly increases the resource base.
Additionally, thorium, which, like uranium, has no significant use other than as a reactor fuel, is another energy resource although it does not contain a fissionable isotope as does uranium. It can be used in a breeding fuel cycle with either fissionable uranium or plutonium and converted to a fissionable isotope of uranium. Indigenous thorium in a number of countries with limited uranium deposits could make this an attractive option.
From a strategic perspective, the need to have a secure and diverse energy supply to reduce reliance on imported energy and price fluctuations can be of paramount national interest. Sixty-five per cent of proven oil reserves are in one region of the world - the Middle East. Natural gas pipelines can be thousands of kilometres in length and pass through a number of countries on the way to the consumer. Hydropower can depend on watersheds fed by several countries. Clearly, where indigenous fossil fuel resources are lacking, nuclear power can contribute substantially to security of supply and the energy mix as it does in Finland, France, Sweden, the Republic of Korea and Japan. Strategic fuel inventories to last many years can be readily established as the quantity of fuel required is small.