Uranium resources and production are on the rise with the security of uranium supply ensured for the long term, according to a new report by the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Uranium 2011: Resources, Production and Demand, commonly referred to as the "Red Book", shows that total identified uranium resources have grown 12.5% since 2008. However, the costs of production have also increased, leading to reductions in lower cost category resources. These figures, which reflect the situation as of 1 January 2011, mean that total identified resources are sufficient for over 100 years of supply based on current requirements.
Global uranium mine production increased by over 25% between 2008 and 2010 because of significantly increased production in Kazakhstan, currently the world's leading producer. The increased resource base has been achieved thanks to a 22% increase in uranium exploration and mine development expenditures between 2008 and 2010, which in 2010 totalled over $2 billion.
Demand for uranium is expected to continue to rise for the foreseeable future. Although the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident has affected nuclear power projects and policies in some countries, nuclear power remains a key part of the global energy mix. Several governments have plans for new nuclear power plant construction, with the strongest expansion expected in China, India, the Republic of Korea and the Russian Federation. The speed and magnitude of growth in generating capacity elsewhere is still to be determined.
By the year 2035, according to the joint NEA-IAEA Secretariat, world nuclear electricity generating capacity is projected to grow from 375 GWe net (at the end of 2010) to between 540 GWe net in the low demand case and 746 GWe net in the high demand case, increases of 44% and 99% respectively. Accordingly, world annual reactor-related uranium requirements are projected to rise from 63 875 tonnes of uranium metal (tU) at the end of 2010 to between 98 000 tU and 136 000 tU by 2035. The currently defined uranium resource base is more than adequate to meet high-case requirements through 2035 and well into the foreseeable future.
Although ample resources are available, meeting projected demand will require timely investments in uranium production facilities. This is because of the long lead times (typically in the order of ten years or more in most producing countries) required to develop production facilities that can turn resources into refined uranium ready for nuclear fuel production.
With uranium production ready to expand to new countries, efforts are being made to develop transparent and well-regulated operations similar to those used elsewhere to minimise potential environmental and local health impacts. Although not the primary focus of the Red Book, activity updates on the environmental aspects of the uranium production cycle are included in the national reports in this edition.
While the status of supply and demand is considered from the perspective of technologies in use today, the deployment of advanced reactors and fuel cycle technologies can also positively affect the long-term availability of uranium, conceivably extending the time horizon of the currently defined resource base to thousands of years.
These are some of the findings in the just-published Uranium 2011: Resources, Production and Demand, a joint study by the OECD/NEA and the IAEA, carried out in co-operation with their member countries. This is the 24th edition of this periodic assessment (currently every two years) which has been published since the mid-1960s.
Uranium 2011: Resources, Production and Demand
A Joint Report by the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency and the International Atomic Energy Agency
OECD, Paris, 2012 - ISBN 978-92-64-17803-8
EURO 140, USD 196, GBP 126, Japanese YEN 18 200
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