Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Seeing Red: What a New Mining Report Says About The Rebirth of an Industry

The Key Lake mill in Canada.

For those of you who tend a bit more to the wonkish end of things, a new joint study from the OECD and IAEA on the world’s supply of uranium could make for some interesting reading. 

The biennial OECD “Red Book” (officially known as Uranium 2009: Resources, Production and Demand) on uranium supply was just released and it has some interesting tidbits on uranium mining and exploration that bode well for the health of the nuclear energy industry.

…uranium resources, production and demand are all on the rise…Worldwide exploration and mine development expenditures have more than doubled since the publication of the previous edition…These expenditures have increased despite declining uranium market prices since mid-2007.

It’s an odd thing for mining expenditures to increase as prices of a commodity drop. Usually as the value of a resource drops, there’s a pullback on production and exploration. After all, who wants to dig up a worthless rock? But with uranium, prices are down, yet expenditures are up, which indicates that customers are anticipating uranium will be more valuable in the future and are snapping it up while they can. Two recent deals by Cameco and a Chinese utility and another between Exelon and TENEX might be an indication of this. 

For its part, the OECD’s Nuclear Energy Agency linked the growing expenditures to a healthy nuclear energy industry: 

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.

The report also found abundant supply of uranium over the long term.

At 2008 rates of consumption, total identified resources are sufficient for over 100 years of supply.

Of course, this raises the question of what happens in 2110? Well, the report remains upbeat on this question as well. Technologically, 100 years is a long time and by then new fuel cycles, fast reactors and other technologies could help enhance the fuel efficiency of uranium and greatly extend supply. 

…it should be recognized 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.

That’s a hard act for any fossil fuel to follow.

For those who want to dig deeper, here’s a chart of the uranium spot price from Cameco.

2 comments:

SteveK9 said...

People need to understand something about resource utilization. 100 years of reserves is very long. Copper has probably never had 100 years of reserves, but like most materials it stays at 30-40 years of reserves for centuries --- it's called finding new reserves.

DocForesight said...

@SteveK9 -- Your point is well taken. In that same vein (no pun intended), I wonder if you've seen this post on 'Peak Oil'?

http://rayharvey.org/index.php/2010/01/peak-oil/

An interesting perspective when it comes to any commodity.