East Asia region projected to have largest increase in nuclear power capacity

The tremendous amount of energy in a uranium atom has always made sure that the price of nuclear power is driven by the cost of building the plant rather than that of fuelling it. But supporters of nuclear energy who argue, correctly, that such plants emit little carbon-dioxide, would do well to remember that uranium — like oil and coal — is a finite resource.

A recently released report by the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Nuclear Energy Agency underscores this fact and states that much of the ‘secondary’ uranium sources required to power the world’s existing nuclear plants are in danger of declining after 2013.

Around 80 per cent of the 63,875 tonnes of uranium needed to power the world’s existing nuclear plants is dug fresh from the ground every year. The remaining 15 – 20 per cent, comes from already mined or ‘secondary sources’, in the form of recycled fuel and redundant nuclear warheads.

The two agencies, publish a biannual estimate of global uranium stocks titled: “Uranium: Resources, Production and Demand”, colloquially known as the Red Book. It estimates, however, that there is enough un-mined uranium to supply today’s nuclear power stations for over a 100 years.

The problem, therefore, lies in bringing increasing quantities of uranium to the market in a timely fashion, in the wake of ‘geopolitical uncertainties’ after the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi accident.

“As secondary supplies of uranium are reduced in the coming years, reactor requirements will need to be increasingly met by mine production. The market will have to provide sufficient incentives for exploration and mine development in order to continue to ensure that global nuclear fuel requirements will be met,” the report says. According to the report, the pace of mine development slowed down due to drop in market prices following the Fukushima accident and lingering uncertainty concerning nuclear power development in some countries.

However, the 2008-10 period saw a 22 increase in uranium exploration and expenditure, and a 25 per cent mine production increase lead by Kazakhstan and countries such as India, China, Canada and the U.S. Nuclear capacity in non European Union countries in Europe is also expected to increase considerably (between 55 per cent and 125 per cent). By 2035, world nuclear capacity is expected to grow between 540Gwe and 746 GWe, increases of 44 per cent and 99 per cent respectively. Accordingly, world annual reactor-related uranium requirements are projected to rise to between 97, 645 and 1,36,385 tonnes of uranium.

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