As the British and American governments signal their renewed commitments to nuclear power as a clean, abundant source of energy that can fuel high growth economies, a new scientific study of worldwide uranium production warns of an imminent supply gap that will result in spiralling fuel costs in the next decades.
The study, based on an analysis of global deposit depletion profiles from past and present uranium mining, forecasts a global uranium mining peak of approximately 58 kilotonnes (kton) by 2015, declining gradually to 54 ktons by 2025, after which production would drop more steeply to at most 41 ktons around 2030. The peer-reviewed study, published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, concludes:
“This amount will not be sufficient to fuel the existing and planned nuclear power plants during the next 10–20 years. In fact, we find that it will be difficult to avoid supply shortages even under a slow 1%/ year worldwide nuclear energy phase-out scenario up to 2025. We thus suggest that a worldwide nuclear energy phase-out is in order.”
But just last week, in response to dire warnings of power blackouts within two years – the same time uranium production will peak according to this study – the UK government announced £10 billion in financial guarantees to the nuclear power industry. Now Energy Secretary Ed Davey promises, “Prices aren’t going to spike: the lights are going to stay on because we’ve got a very well thought-through plan.”
The decision reinforces the government’s focus on nuclear power as central to its national energy strategy. According to the government’s high-nuclear scenario, nuclear power could provide 86% of the UK’s electricity at 75GW of capacity by 2050.
The new study acknowledges the dawn of a new production period in the last five years, during which a total of 250 ktons or uranium has been produced, but points out that increasingly producers must extract lower grade uranium which generates less energy than higher grades. On average, it finds, only 50-70% of initial uranium resource estimates can be extracted.
The coming nuclear energy crunch