News of the month (July 2005).
Uranium Supply and the Nuclear Option?
The nuclear industry have traditionally argued that nuclear energy is a reliable source of energy in the longer term [WNA 2003], but for how long? There are many technical issues, related to the choice of reactor and the operation of the fuel cycle, which affect the longevity of the uranium resource. Potentially these choices could limit the viability of the uranium resource to a few decades.
To decide how valid an option nuclear energy is we must understand the limitations on the availability of uranium, and the current state of reactor technology. There are many uncertainties about how the nuclear industry might develop in the future, but it is possible to conclude that the supply of uranium, at a level that could support largescale power generation, might only be viable for a matter of decades. Potentially, could a shortage of uranium be the Achilles-heel of the nuclear industry that, so far, the anti-nuclear lobby have missed?
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To make a significant contribution to energy supply nuclear energy would have to expand by such a scale that
the lifetime of the uranium resource, along with issues such as the management of radioactive waste and the control of fissile materials, are always going to be problematic. Unlike plant safety or the emission of radioactivity, which can be controlled through better engineering or management, the basic issue of how much energy can be produced from nuclear sources is limited by physical laws and the scale of current global energy demand.
There are clear shortcomings in the current methodology for assessing uranium resources because they are
based entirely on the economic costs of production, not the net energy value of the resource once the costs of
extraction and use are taken into account. This has important implications, which vary according to the selection of the fuel cycles and reactor technologies used, on the lifetime of the uranium resource. Until the net energy value of the uranium resource, and different fuel cycles, is taken into account we can have no clear understanding of the productive future of the nuclear industry.
These are taken from:
Paul Mobbs, Mobbs' Environmental Investigations and Research,
3 Grosvenor Road, Banbury OX16 5HN.Tel./fax 01295 261864. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
© Paul Mobbs, March 2005. Released under the Gnu Free Documentation License.
Published in Oxford Energy Forum, the quarterly journal of the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies,
Issue 61, May 2005. (see http://www.oxfordenergy.org/ for details of the OIES).