How much uranium is there and where is it?

I have recently been trying to assess how many years of fossil fuel the planet has left. There is more fuel than coal, natural gas and oil. The other large resource based fuel is that which drives the nuclear power industry – uranium.

According to a report in the New Scientist, looking at matters simply, there is only 59 years supply of uranium left, if it is consumed at the current rate. According to the British Geological survey more than 45,000 tonnes of uranium metal is produced each year and there are reserves of 4.74 million tonnes, making well over a hundred years worth of uranium left. The European Nuclear Society and The World Nuclear Association estimate world reserves at 3.3 and 5.4 million tonnes respectively, so the British Geological Survey’s figures fall between the two other estimates.

Uranium was not a particularly fashionable material, in energy terms, between 1980 and 2003. Indeed the first Labour Government in the present series in the UK built an energy policy on the basis that no further nuclear power stations would be built. They have since changed their minds.

Other governments have also changed their minds as it becomes more obvious that oil has peaked, natural gas may be very near the peak and coal is really too dirty to burn. This has driven much more exploration for uranium, and deposits have been found in recent years on every continent except Europe and Antarctica. Unlike oil gas and coal there is probably more uranium that we have yet to find than that we know about.

Two international organisations offer opinions about the uranium reserves – The European Nuclear Society and the World Nuclear Association. For some reason the former’s estimates of reserves are almost always less than the latter’s estimate so again you have to guess who is right or whether the right figure lies between the two. Here are the major reserves on a nation by nation basis.

Country                         WNA                 ENS

Australia                       1,243                725

Kazakhstan                      817                378

Russia                                546                172

South Africa                    435                284

Canada                              423                329

USA                                    342                339

Brazil                                 278                157

Namibia                           275                176

Ukraine                            200                135

Jordan                             112                not estimated

Uzbekistan                       111                72

India                                  73                not estimated

China                                  68               not estimated

Mongolia                            62               not estimated

Rest                                   210                287

 

As with fossil fuel the amount of reserves that these organisations estimate the reserves based on uranium prices. Mostly the price basis was $130 per kilogram for the New Scientist research, but since 2007 the price has fallen to as low as $40. Uranium specialists see the price pushing back up to $80 or more.

Much will depend upon how many nuclear power stations will be built. It might take five or more years to plan a nuclear power station and bring it on line. That means that increased demand for uranium will not show until more nuclear plants have been built.

Assuming no more nuclear power plant accidents it is reasonable to plan on the basis that people will build the power stations and leave the nuclear waste disposal problem to their grandchildren – a poisoned chalice if ever there was one.

Nuclear energy will become beloved of governments whose fossil fuel resources are drying up, or too expensive or controlled by unfriendly nations. Factor in increasing populations and increasing use of electrical power it is reasonable to suggest that we see a trebling of nuclear power stations across the world in ten of fifteen years from now, which will lead to more uranium being sued – not treble the amount now as modern reactors use less, but perhaps a doubling of uranium use.

These factors suggest that we have enough uranium to last for thirty to forty years.

One Response

  1. […] How much uranium is there and where is it? […]

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