According to Uranium 2009: Resources, Production and Demand just published by the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), uranium resources, production and demand are all on the rise. Exploration efforts have increased recently in line with the expected expansion of nuclear energy in the coming years. Total identified resources have grown but so too have costs of production.
Worldwide exploration and mine development expenditures have more than doubled since the publication of the previous edition, Uranium 2007: Resources, Production and Demand. These expenditures have increased despite declining uranium market prices since mid-2007.
The uranium resources presented in this edition, reflecting the situation as of 1 January 2009, show that total identified resources amounted to 6 306 300 tU, an increase of about 15% compared to 2007, including those reported in the high-cost category (3O8), reintroduced for the first time since the 1980s. This high-cost category was used in the 2009 edition in response to the generally increased market prices for uranium in recent years, despite the decline since mid-2007, expectations of increasing demand as new nuclear power plants are being planned and built, and increased mining costs. Although total identified resources have increased overall, there has been a significant reduction in lower-cost resources owing to increased mining costs. At 2008 rates of consumption, total identified resources are sufficient for over 100 years of supply.
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.
According to capacity projections developed in this edition, by the year 2035, world nuclear capacity is projected to grow to between 500 and 785 GWe net. Accordingly, world reactor-related uranium requirements are also projected to rise. As observed in the past, increased investment in exploration has resulted in important discoveries and the identification of new resources. It is foreseen that, if market conditions improve further, additional exploration will be stimulated leading to the identification of additional resources of economic interest.
Even in the high-growth scenario to 2035, less than half of the identified resources described in this edition would be consumed. 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.
In addition, current projections of uranium mine production capacities could satisfy projected high-case world uranium requirements until the late 2020s. However, given the challenges and length of time associated with increasing production at existing mines and opening new mines, it is unlikely that all production increases will proceed as planned. As a result, secondary sources of previously mined uranium will continue to be required, complemented to the extent possible by uranium savings achieved by specifying lower tails assays at enrichment facilities and technical developments in fuel cycle technology.
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.
These are some of the findings from Uranium 2009: Resources, Production and Demand, a joint study by the OECD/NEA and the IAEA, carried out in co-operation with their member countries and states and commonly referred to as the "Red Book". This is the 23rd edition of this periodic assessment (currently every two years) which has been published since the mid-1960s.
Uranium 2009: Resources, Production and Demand A Joint Report by the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency and the International Atomic Energy Agency OECD, Paris, 2010 ISBN 978-92-64-04789-1 € 130, £ 117, US$ 182, ¥ 16 900
NEA membership consists of 28 OECD countries. The mission of the NEA is to assist its member countries in maintaining and further developing, through international co-operation, the scientific, technological and legal bases required for a safe, environ-mentally friendly and economical use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
The IAEA serves as the world´s foremost intergovernmental forum for scientific and technical co-operation in the peaceful use of nuclear technology. Established as an autonomous organization under the United Nations (UN) in 1957, the IAEA carries out programs to maximize the useful contribution of nuclear technology to society while verifying its peaceful use.