Thursday, March 22, 2007

On MIT's Uranium Study

Yesterday, MIT released a study that the Globe and Mail described this way:

Growing global competition for scarce enriched uranium threatens to derail a much-heralded nuclear renaissance in the United States and around the world, says an industry researcher from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In a report released yesterday, MIT researcher Thomas Neff said there has been 20 years of under-investment in uranium production and enrichment, resulting in a tightening of supply that has driven prices up eightfold.

The shortfall leaves a gap between the potential increase in demand for nuclear energy -- which is particularly strong in Asia -- and the ability to supply fuel for it.

"There has been a nuclear-industry myopia; they didn't take a long-term view," Mr. Neff said in his report.
Others have since picked up the story. This is an issue we've looked at before, so I though I'd check in with Felix Killar, one of our internal experts on the nuclear fuel cycle.

The following graph [above] was produced by IAEA. It is based on international data which provides the ability of uranium to meet the demand between now and 2050. It assumes that the production of electricity from nuclear power plants will triple by 2050 from today. Reasonably Assured Reserves is the uranium which has already been identified as being recoverable at reasonable costs. The Inferred Reserves are quantities of uranium which the industry has good data to support its existence, however, the data is not sufficient to put the reserves in the Reasonably Assured list. Note this table was generated prior to the price the industry is experiencing today on the uranium spot market.
In short we do not have a uranium problem. The industry does have a tight uranium market because uranium mining was in the decline due to low uranium prices and inventory liquidations. This was enhanced by the lost of 8 million pounds of annual production from Cigar Lake has been deferred for a time period due to the cave in at that mine. The industry is also short about 4 million pounds of uranium from the Ranger mine due to rains which stopped production and will require time to return the mine to full production.
Don’t equate tight market conditions to an inability to have sufficient uranium to meet demand.
Thanks to Felix for answering so promptly. NIOF has more.


Paul Studier said...

I guess everyone has forgotten the article "World Uranium Resources", by Kenneth S. Deffeyes and Ian D. MacGregor, ''Scientific American'', January, 1980. In this article, it estimates that for a ten times increase in price, the supply of uranium that can be economically mined is increased 300 times. So there is an awful lot of it available. Deffeyes is the author of Hubbert's Peak where he concludes that the oil is running out.

Flagg707 said...

In addition to the Deffeyes-MacGregor study above, there is another isotope available for the fuel cycle - thorium (breeding up U-233), which is far more abundant than even uranium.

The Kurchatov Institute has recently finished studies on fuel elements designed for their VVER reactors. Were some sort of hybrid thorium cycle adopted, nuclear fuel would not be an issue at all. Granted it would probably take 10 years to design, fabricate and test fuel rods for PWRs and BWRs currently in service or coming online, but that would arrive just in time for the coming (we hope) buildout.

More info here:

Anonymous said...

Has anyone seen Neff's report? All I can find on the MIT website is a March 21 press release on Neff's position. Unlike the Globe and Mail story, the MIT PR makes no mention of a report.

A link would be helpful, thanks.

Jeff said...

Terrifc chart from IAEA to put Neff's commnets in perspective; however I cannot locate this chart on the IAEA WEB site? and also curious why the demand line, shown to be ~ 40,000 t U does not reconcile with the annual demand of 180,000 lbs. ???

Jeff said...

Great IAEA chart; however cannot find on the IAEA WEB site, and why does it show demand at 40,000 t U or 88 million lbs when the actual demand is ~ 180 million lbs. ???