By Chris Hopkins,
Senior Vice President, Aggregates and Mining, The Saint Consulting Group
Is there a pending worldwide uranium supply crisis approaching? That is a question that was posed to me recently during a lecture I gave at the University of Arizona’s School of Mining and Geological Engineering. This is an interesting and timely topic and the direct answer is; yes there very well could be.
It is a simple case of math. There are currently 436 nuclear power plants online and operating in the world, 104 in the United States alone. There are currently 53 nuclear plants under construction in the world, an increase of 12 percent of the world’s current capacity. There are also 15 current nuclear applications currently under review in the United States alone with 31 applications being prepared for submission. China has stated that their goal is to build 100 more nuclear power plants. The World Nuclear Association offers the statistic that during the 1980s one new nuclear reactor started up every 17 days on average, and by the year 2015 this rate could increase to one every five days. Clearly there will be an increase in demand in the near future.
Meanwhile supply is dwindling. The most significant reduction will be coming from the end of the “Megatons to Megawatts” program in 2013. This program was developed in 1993 between the United States and Russia to convert weapons grade uranium to lower fuel grade uranium. The United States currently get’s 50 percent of the uranium supply from this program. Russia has firmly stated that they will not renew this program.
Currently the largest producers of uranium are Australia, Kazakhstan, and Canada with Russia and Kazakhstan being the frontrunners at dominating the world uranium market in the near future. Australia has the largest uranium deposits in the world, but due to environmental opposition and regulation, their mining and production has been severely limited.
The United States has seen a dramatic increase in uranium claims over the past several years but the local, state and federal permitting processes as well as organized opposition by regional and national environment organizations has virtually stopped any new mines from being opened in the United States. The U.S. currently holds the fourth largest uranium reserves in the world, but we mine only five percent of the uranium that we currently use.
While the United States strives for energy independence, the resources that are needed to achieve that independence lay undisturbed in the ground. Unless there is a renewal of uranium mining in the U.S. in the near future, the country will be faced with another era of relying on unpredictable foreign governments and market forces controlling a vitally needed fuel supply.
Chris Hopkins is senior vice president for aggregates and mining, The Saint Consulting Group, email firstname.lastname@example.org phone 615-656-3794