Top
Reference

Uranium supply

This page is about current and future supply of uranium for power generation. The main questions are how primary and secondary supplies will complement, and whether overall supply will be adequate.

Summary

31 Jul 2011.

Primary supply, from mining, was 43,880 tons of uranium (U) in 2008 (Red Book), 50,772 tons U in 2009 (WNA; up 16%), and 53,663 tU in 2010 (WNA, up 6%). The top three producers in 2010 were Kazakhstan, Canada, and Australia.

In 2008 secondary sources – mainly existing inventories and decommissioned warheads – supplied about 26% of demand. Little information is available for commercial inventories, which are not reported by most countries. On the military side, highly-enriched uranium (HEU) from excess weapons is “down-blended” with depleted uranium to make low-enriched uranium (LEU) suitable for use in a reactor. A large fraction of weapons-derived supply is via a US-Russian agreement that ends in 2013.

In the long run three major factors will determine supply: (1) increasing primary production, (2) possible further decommissioning of weapons, and (3) recycling of spent fuel. All are somewhat uncertain.

Recycling is not currently profitable but, in the longer term, with rising prices, this could change. In particular it should be noted that recycling could, in the longer term, provide a soft ceiling on the price.

Uranium supply from weapons will probably decline soon. The total stockpile of US and Russian weapons is probably equivalent to about 12 years' primary supply, so there is always a possibility of a glut. But most experts expect that when the current agreement between the US and Russia for converting weapons uranium to reactor fuel ends in 2013, the secondary supply will fall.

Thus the adequacy of supply will probably be determined by whether mine production ramps up fast enough to (1) stand in for falling secondary supply and (2) keep up with rising demand. For some years yet, the main limitation on increasing mine production will be investment. Exploration and development expenditures rose strongly in 2006-2008, and then began to drop again in 2009, following the spot price with some delay. Mine production has increased significantly in the last few years, but mines often faces delays both technical and legal, so it remains unclear whether mine production will be adequate.

Additional highlights

  • Definitions (20 Mar 2010) From the IAEA: “Uranium supply is broadly classified into two categories — secondary and primary supply. Secondary supply includes high enriched uranium (HEU), natural and low enriched uranium (LEU) inventories, mixed oxide fuel (MOX), reprocessed uranium (RepU) and re-enrichment of depleted uranium (tails). Primary supply includes all newly mined and processed uranium.”
  • Recycling (20 Nov 2010) Spent fuel still contains a large amount of usable uranium; current stocks could satisfy world demand for several years. However it is expensive to reprocess and, further, such reprocessing competes with newly mined material for enrichment capacity. Once the higher quality ore begins to be depleted and prices rise, this could very well change.
  • Units
    • Spot prices are usually dollars per pound U3O8, but inventories are usually in tons of either U3O8 or U.
    • A ton of U3O8 contains about 3*238/(3*238+8*16) = 0.85 tons U.
    • Natural uranium is about 0.7% U-235. Reactor fuel is typically about 4%. HEU is 20%+, usually 90%+.
  • Warheads
    • Background (20 Mar 2010) Weapons-grade is about 97% U-235; diluting it about 25:1 with depleted uranium, to about 4% U-235, makes it suitable for use in a reactor.
    • Overall potential supply (19 Nov 2010) According to WNA, as of Oct 2009, “Highly-enriched uranium in US and Russian weapons and other military stockpiles amounts to about 2000 tonnes, equivalent to about twelve times annual world mine production.” On 19 Mar 2010 Michele Flournoy, the defence department undersecretary for policy said Russia was increasing its reliance on nuclear weapons.
    • Plutonium not significant (21 Jul 2008) In Sep 2000, the US and Russia agreed to dispose of 68 tons of surplus plutonium, to displace 1% of world annual uranium requirements over the period of the program.
    • Russian main deal (31 Jul 2011) 1992 “Agreement between the Government of the US and the Government of the Russian Federation Concerning the Disposition of Highly Enriched Uranium Extracted from Nuclear Weapons (HEU Purchase Agreement)” provided for blending down 500 tons of Russian HEU over 20 years. As of Sep 2010, 400 tons had been downblended.
    • US (20 Nov 2010) The US has committed to a long-term disposition schedule for its excess uranium. A primary goal is not to disrupt the market, and the most that will be sold in any one year is the natural uranium equivalent of about 4000 tons.
    • Recent arms reduction (19 Nov 2010) The arms reduction negotiated by Obama and Medvedev in Mar 2010 is irrelevant to uranium supply – it is not clear whether the uranium will come to market, but even if it did, the amount involved is equivalent to just a few months of world mine production.

Sources

The most important sources for comprehensive overviews are:

For news, two useful sources are

See also

Clippings below were used in the construction of this page

Covered through 18 Nov 2010.

IAEA definitions

2001. IEAE web site.

http://www-pub.iaea.org/MTCD/publications/PDF/Pub1104_scr.pdf

“ANALYSIS OF URANIUM SUPPLY TO 2050”

“Uranium supply is broadly classified into two categories — secondary and primary supply. Secondary supply includes high enriched uranium (HEU), natural and low enriched uranium (LEU) inventories, mixed oxide fuel (MOX), reprocessed uranium (RepU) and re-enrichment of depleted uranium (tails). Primary supply includes all newly mined and processed uranium.”

2007 Red Book, for 2006

3 Jun 2008. NEA website.

http://213.253.134.43/oecd/pdfs/browseit/6608031E.PDF

“Uranium 2007: Resources, Production and Demand The “Red Book”, jointly prepared by the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency and the International Atomic Energy Agency.”

”[Early history of main Russian/US agreement]

An Agreement between the Government of the US and the Government of the Russian Federation Concerning the Disposition of Highly Enriched Uranium Extracted from Nuclear Weapons (HEU Purchase Agreement) was signed on 16 October 1992 by the US and the Russian Federation providing for the blending down of 500 tons of HEU to low enriched uranium (LEU) over 20 years. USEC, Inc., the US Government’s sole executive agent for implementing the HEU Purchase Agreement, receives deliveries of LEU from the Russian Federation for sale to commercial nuclear power plants. … In June 2006, the Russian Federation indicated that the HEU agreement will not be renewed when the initial agreement expires in 2013. …

[At some point recycling will add significantly to supply, but for now it is too expensive.]

When spent fuel is discharged from a commercial reactor it is potentially recyclable, since about 96% of the original fissionable material remains along with the plutonium created during the fission process. The recycled plutonium can be reused in reactors licensed to use mixed-oxide fuel (MOX). The uranium recovered through reprocessing of spent fuel, known as reprocessed uranium (RepU), is not routinely recycled; rather, it is stored for future reuse. The use of MOX has not yet significantly altered world uranium demand because only a relatively small number of reactors are using this type of fuel. Additionally, the number of recycles possible using current reprocessing and reactor technology is limited by the build-up of plutonium isotopes that are not fissionable by the thermal neutron spectrum found in light-water reactors and by the build-up of undesirable elements, especially curium. … Uranium recovery through reprocessing of spent fuel, known as RepU, has been conducted in the past in several countries, including Belgium and Japan. It is now routinely done only in France and the Russian Federation, principally because recycling of RepU is a relatively costly endeavour, in part due to the requirement for dedicated conversion, enrichment and fabrication facilities. Changing market conditions and non-proliferation concerns are, however, leading to renewed consideration of this recycling option. Very limited information is available concerning how much reprocessed uranium is used though available data indicate that it represents less than 1% of projected world requirements annually. …

Depleted uranium stocks represent a significant reserve of uranium that could displace primary uranium production. However, the re-enrichment of depleted uranium has been limited as a secondary source of uranium since it is only economic in centrifuge enrichment plants that have spare capacity and low operating costs. At the end of 2005 the inventory of depleted uranium is estimated at about 1 600 000 tU and to be increasing by about 60 000 tU annually based on uranium requirements of 66 000 tU per annum. If this entire inventory was re-enriched to levels suitable for nuclear fuel it would yield an estimated 450 000 tU of equivalent natural uranium, which would be sufficient for about seven years of operation of the world’s nuclear reactors at the 2006 uranium requirement levels. However, this would require significant spare enrichment capacity that is not currently available.”

Russian uranium sales direct to US companies

25 May 2009. NYTimes.com.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/26/world/europe/26russia.html?hp

“Russian Uranium Sale to U.S. Is Planned. By ANDREW E. KRAMER and MATTHEW L. WALD”

“Russia, already a large supplier of nuclear-reactor fuel to Europe and Asia, is expected on Tuesday to sign its first purely commercial contract to supply low-enriched uranium to United States utilities. …

Now the Russians will be selling nuclear fuel from virgin uranium. …

As a legacy of the cold war, Russia possesses about 40 percent of the world’s uranium enrichment capacity, much more than it needs to service its domestic reactors, and it has sought direct access to the American utilities market for years. …

Techsnabexport, the Russian state company that exports low-enriched uranium, is expected to sign the contract in Moscow with a consortium of American nuclear companies. …

The new contract is separate from a program to dilute surplus weapons uranium into civilian fuel for use in American reactors. Under that so-called megatons to megawatts program, begun in 1993, Russia is already the largest supplier of enriched uranium to American utilities and provides about half of all uranium consumed in civilian reactors in the United States.”

Russia is probably not about to retire a lot of nuclear weapons

19 Mar 2010. FTUSA p3.

“Moscow's 'nuclear doctrine' under fire. Daniel Dombey”

“A top Pentagon official has expressed concern at what she describes as Russia's increasing reliance on nuclear weapons, a trend the US says is at odds with President Barack Obama's arms control agenda.

“There are aspects to their nuclear doctrine, their military activities that we find very troubling,” said Michele Flournoy, the defence department undersecretary for policy.

In an interview with the Financial Times, she said that while Mr Obama had stressed “the importance of reducing the role of nuclear weapons . . . if you read recent Russian military doctrine they are going in the other direction, they are actually increasing their reliance on nuclear weapons, the role in nuclear weapons in their strategy”. …

Greater reliance by Moscow on nuclear weapons would complicate the US's planned next step with Russia - a more ambitious treaty to make big cuts in their nuclear arsenals.”

Nuclear arms reduction agreement announced

26 Mar 2010. NY Times.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/27/world/europe/27start.html

“Obama Completes Arms Control Deal With Russia. By PETER BAKER and HELENE COOPER”

“Ending a year of sometimes topsy-turvy negotiations, Mr. Obama and President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia sealed the deal in a morning telephone call, confirming resolution of the last outstanding details. They then announced they will fly to Prague to sign the treaty on April 8 in a ceremony designed to showcase improved relations between the two countries. …

while the pact recognizes the dispute between the two countries over American plans for missile defense based in Europe, it will not restrict the United States from building such a shield.

Instead, the two sides each drafted separate nonbinding statements reiterating their positions on missile defense. Russia warned in its statement that it reserved the right to withdraw from the new treaty if it decided that American missile defense plans were developing in a way that threatened its security. The United States asserted in its statement that it would develop missile defense as it saw fit, but offered assurance that the program was not aimed at Russia nor at undermining the security balance between the two countries. …

Mrs. Clinton said that she did not anticipate any trouble getting the agreement ratified by the Senate, noting that arms control agreements in the past have sailed through. …

According to people in Washington and Moscow who were briefed on the new treaty, it will lower the legal limit on deployed strategic warheads to 1,550 each, from the 2,200 allowed as of 2012 under the previous treaty. …

The United States currently has 2,100 deployed strategic warheads and Russia 2,600, according to the Federation of American Scientists and the Natural Resources Defense Council, so each side will have to cut hundreds within seven years after the treaty is ratified. … Moreover, the treaty does not limit the thousands of tactical nuclear bombs and stored strategic warheads each side has.

The notion that “this is somehow great news or a breakthrough” in fact “is hardly the case,” said Peter Huessy, president of GeoStrategic Analysis, a national security consulting business. As a matter of percentages, Mr. Huessy noted that the treaty cuts warheads only half as much as the Treaty of Moscow signed in 2002 by President George W. Bush did. …

The Obama administration readily acknowledges the limitations of the new treaty. But from the beginning, the White House described it as an effort aimed especially at building a foundation of trust with Moscow and establishing an inspection regime to replace the one that expired in December along with the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or Start. After a successful first round, Mr. Obama plans to open another round of negotiations to cut arsenals even further, including stored warheads and tactical weapons. And eventually he envisions bringing other nuclear powers like China, Britain and France into discussions. …

Nikolai Sokov, a former Soviet arms negotiator now at the Monterrey Institute of International Studies in California, said the new pact was “both modest and essential” to more lasting accomplishments.

“So much effort has been spent in the last several months that there is a tendency to see it as a major step forward,” he said. “I think 10 years from now, we will see it for what it is — a small bridge treaty, without which subsequent, much bigger achievement would not have been possible.””

[from WNA, 20,000 bombs is equivalent to about 3 years' global mine production. The above specifies a reduction of 1600 warheads. So if tons/bomb is even roughly constant, this is about 0.24 years' worth of mining supply. Not important for uranium supply.]

[For the distinction between strategic and non-strategic weapons, see http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/nuke/RL32572.pdf and http://www.wmdcommission.org/files/No8.pdf.]

The actual numbers on the nuclear stockpile

3 May 2010. Department of Defense press release.

http://www.defense.gov/npr/docs/10-05-03_fact_sheet_us_nuclear_transparency__final_w_date.pdf

“Increasing Transparency in the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Stockpile”

“The United States is releasing newly declassified information on the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile. Increasing the transparency of global nuclear stockpiles is important to non- proliferation efforts, and to pursuing follow-on reductions after the ratification and entry into force of the New START Treaty that cover all nuclear weapons: deployed and non-deployed, strategic and non-strategic.

Stockpile. As of September 30, 2009, the U.S. stockpile of nuclear weapons consisted of 5,113 warheads. This number represents an 84 percent reduction from the stockpile’s maximum (31,255) at the end of fiscal year 1967, and over a 75 percent reduction from its level (22,217) when the Berlin Wall fell in late 1989. The below figure shows the U.S. nuclear stockpile from 1945 through September 30, 2009.

Warhead Dismantlement. From fiscal years 1994 through 2009, the United States dismantled 8,748 nuclear warheads. Several thousand additional nuclear weapons are currently retired and awaiting dismantlement.

Non-Strategic Nuclear Weapons. The number of U.S. non-strategic nuclear weapons declined by approximately 90 percent from September 30, 1991 to September 30, 2009.

Definitions *The nuclear stockpile includes both active and inactive warheads. Active warheads include strategic and non- strategic weapons maintained in an operational, ready-for-use configuration, warheads that must be ready for possible deployment within a short timeframe, and logistics spares. They have tritium bottles and other Limited Life Components installed. Inactive warheads are maintained at a depot in a non-operational status, and have their tritium bottles removed.

*A retired warhead is removed from its delivery platform, is not functional, and is not considered part of the nuclear stockpile. It is put in the queue for dismantlement.

*A dismantled warhead is a warhead that has been reduced to its component parts.”

[This does not discuss whether the HEU from dismantled weapons is being kept in a strategic stockpile.]

Red Book 2009 on exploration

Jul 2010. NEA and IAEA.

http://www.nea.fr/pub/uranium2009/

“Uranium 2009: Resources, Production and Demand”

“Worldwide exploration and mine development expenditures in 2008 totalled about USD 1.641 billion, an increase of 133% compared to updated 2006 figures, despite declining market prices since mid-2007. …

Exploration and development activities in 2007 and 2008 continued at a pace not seen for almost two decades, driven by increases in the uranium spot price until mid-2007. These activities were conducted in countries which explored for and developed uranium deposits in the past and also in many countries where exploration for uranium had not been conducted for some time. Since most of these countries did not report exploration and development expenditures, total worldwide uranium exploration and development expenditures are likely higher than what is reported here.”

Red Book 2009 on production

Jul 2010. NEA and IAEA.

http://www.nea.fr/pub/uranium2009/

“Uranium 2009: Resources, Production and Demand”

“Uranium production in 2008 totalled 43 880 tU, a 6% increase from the 41 244 tU produced in 2007 and an 11% increase from the 39 617 tU produced in 2006. As in 2006, a total of 20 countries reported output in 2008. Global production increases between 2006 and 2008 were driven principally by significantly increased output in Kazakhstan (61%). More modest increases were recorded in Australia, Brazil, Namibia and the Russian Federation. Reduced production was recorded in a number of countries between 2006 and 2008 (including Canada, Niger and the United States) owing to a combination of lower than expected ore grades, technical difficulties and preparations for mine expansions. Underground mining accounted for 32% of global production in 2008; ISL mining, 30% (rising rapidly in importance, principally because of capacity increases in Kazakhstan); open pit mining, 27%; with co-product and by-product recovery from copper and gold operations and other unconventional methods accounting for most of the remaining 11%. Global uranium production in 2009 is expected to increase by 16% to over 51 000 tU, with production beginning in Malawi and continuing to ramp up in Kazakhstan (the largest production increase – more than 60% from 2008 to 2009 – is expected to occur once again in Kazakhstan). …

Production grew faster in Kazakhstan since 2006 than in any other country, increasing by 26% and 28% in 2007 and 2008, respectively. In 2008, Kazakhstan became the world’s second largest producer and if plans for future expansion are realised, as they have been in the recent past, it is poised to become the world’s largest producer in 2009. Namibia also increased production significantly and in 2008 ranked as the world’s fourth largest producer. Four countries; Australia, Canada, Namibia and Kazakhstan, accounted for 69% of world production in 2008 and just eight countries, Canada (21%), Kazakhstan (20%), Australia (19%), Namibia (10%), the Russian Federation (8%), Niger (7%), Uzbekistan (5%) and the United States (3%), accounted for about 93% of world production in 2008 (Figure 5).

Overall, world uranium production increased from 39 617 tU in 2006 to 41 244 tU in 2007 (a 4.1% increase) and to 43 880 tU in 2008 (a 6% increase from 2007). In 2009, uranium production is expected to increase by 16% to over 51 000 tU. …

[Top 5 producers 2008]

Country tU
Canada 9000
Kazakhstan 8512
Australia 8433
Namibia 4400
Russia 3521

[2009 expected 51022]

Projected Production Capabilities

To assist in developing projections of future uranium availability, member countries were asked to provide projections of production capability through 2035. Table 24 shows the projections for existing and committed production centres (A-II columns) and for existing, committed, planned and prospective production centres (B-II columns) in the <USD 130/kgU category through 2035 for all countries that either are currently producing uranium or have the potential to do so in the future. Note that both the A-II and B-II scenarios are supported by currently identified local RAR and IR in the <USD 130/kgU category, with the exception of Pakistan and Romania.

Several current or potential uranium producing countries, including China, India, Iran, Jordan, Malawi, Mongolia, Namibia, Pakistan, Romania, the United States and Uzbekistan, did not report projected production capabilities. As a result, estimates of production capability for these countries were developed using data submitted for past Red Books and company reports. Projections of future production capability for Pakistan and Romania in Table 24 are based on reports that these countries intend to meet their future domestic reactor requirements with domestic production, even though the currently Identified Resource bases are insufficient to meet these projected requirements.

The reported production capability of existing and committed production centres in 2010 is about 70 180 tU. For comparison, 2007 production capability totalled 54 370 tU. Hence by 2010, projections of production capability have increased by over 16 000 tU since 2007. However, in 2007 actual production amounted to 41 244 tU, or about 76% of stated production capability. In 2005, production was 84% of stated capability, and in 2003, 75%. Full capability is rarely, if ever achieved. Total production capability for 2010, including planned and prospective centres (category B-II), amounts to 75 405 tU, over 18 000 tU more than the 2007 B-II total capability of 56 855 tU. However, in 2007 production amounted to 73% of total B-II capability; in 2005, 81% and in 2003, 74%.

Clearly, an expansion in production capability driven by generally higher uranium prices since 2003 is underway, and although production is also increasing, it is not increasing as rapidly. Increasing production takes time and appropriate market conditions for the stated production capability increases to be turned into production. …

Later, closure of existing mines due to resource depletion is expected to be offset by the opening of new mines. As currently projected, production capability of existing and committed production centres is currently expected to reach over 98 000 tU/year in 2020 and total potential production capability (including planned and prospective production centres, category B-II) is currently projected to rapidly climb to over 140 000 tU/year by 2020.”

Red Book 2009 on stockpiles and secondary supply

Jul 2010. NEA and IAEA.

http://www.nea.fr/pub/uranium2009/

“Uranium 2009: Resources, Production and Demand”

“data from past editions of this publication, along with information recently provided by member states, gives an indication of the possible upper bound total of potentially commercially- available inventories. Cumulative production through 2008 is estimated to have amounted to about 2 415 000 tU, whereas cumulative reactor requirements through 2008 amounted to about 1 840 000 tU. This leaves an estimated remaining stock of roughly 575 000 tU, the upper limit of what could potentially become available to the commercial sector (Figure 14). This base of already mined uranium has essentially been distributed into two sectors, with the majority used and/or reserved for the military and the remainder used or stockpiled by the civilian sector. Since the end of the Cold War, increasing amounts of uranium, previously reserved for military purposes, have been released to the commercial sector. However, a portion of this will likely always remain reserved for military uses. …

Civilian inventories include strategic stocks, pipeline inventory and excess stocks available to the market. Utilities are believed to hold the majority of commercial stocks because many have policies that require carrying the equivalent of one to two years of natural uranium requirements. Despite the importance of this secondary source of uranium, relatively little is known about the size of these stocks because few countries are able or willing, due to confidentiality concerns, to provide detailed information on stockpiles held by producers, consumers or governments (Table 29). …

The inventory of enriched uranium product and natural uranium held by the Russian Federation, though never officially reported, is believed to be substantial. However, these inventories have been drawn upon for several years. …

In March 2008, the Secretary of Energy of the United States released a policy statement on the management of the excess uranium inventory held by the US Department of Energy (DOE). The DOE excess uranium inventory comprises highly enriched uranium (HEU), low enriched uranium (LEU), natural uranium and depleted uranium that in total amounts to the natural equivalent of about 59 000 tU. The supporting management plan released later that same year states that the total natural uranium equivalent potentially entering the market in any one year would generally represent no more than 10% of the total domestic fuel requirements of all licensed nuclear power plants (total requirements are estimated to be about 19 230 tU/yr between 2008 and 2017), except in the case of potential sales of natural uranium for initial reactor cores [7]. This amount is not expected to have an adverse material impact on the domestic uranium mining, conversion and enrichment industries. While the plan guides the disposition of material over a 25 year period, it includes details of the form and amount of material that could be released over the next 10 years, ranging from 584 tU (natural uranium equivalent) in 2008 to a peak of 3 957 tU in 2014. …

United States Highly-enriched Uranium

The United States has committed to the disposition of 174.3 tonnes of surplus HEU with about 151 tonnes planned to be eventually blended down for use as LEU fuel in research and commercial reactors and 23 tonnes slated for disposal as waste. By 30 June 2009, down blending was 95 % complete.

The DOE and Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) entered an Interagency Agreement in April 2001, whereby TVA will utilise LEU derived from blending down about 33 tonnes of US surplus HEU. In 2004 this agreement was modified to increase the total to 39 tonnes of HEU and an additional 5.6 tonnes of HEU was added to the program in 2008. This LEU is considered “off-spec” because it contains 236 U in excess of the specifications established for commercial nuclear fuel. Different portions of this material are being down-blended at DOE’s Savannah River Site (SRS) and at a TVA contractor. Down-blending began at SRS in 2003 and at the contractor facility in 2004. This down-blending programme continues and use of the resultant Blended Low-enriched Uranium (BLEU) to produce electricity was initiated at TVA’s Browns Ferry reactor in early 2005. The implementation of the agreement is expected to continue providing fuel for TV A reactors until 2016. …

In November 2005, the DOE announced that an additional 200 tonnes of HEU beyond the initially declared 174.3 tonnes of HEU would be permanently removed from further use by the United States in nuclear weapons. Of the additional 200 tonnes HEU, 160 tonnes will be provided for use in naval propulsion, 20 tonnes is to be blended down to low-enriched uranium fuel for use in power or research reactors, and 20 tonnes reserved for space and research reactors that currently use HEU, pending development of fuels that would enable the conversion to low-enriched uranium fuel cores. For power reactors, the LEU would become available gradually over a 25-year period.

About 10 tonnes of surplus HEU will be blended down to make low-enriched research reactor fuel through approximately 2016. In addition, 17.4 tonnes of HEU will be down-blended to low- enriched uranium fuel as part of the Reliable Fuel Supply initiative announced by DOE in September 2005. Under the Reliable Fuel Supply initiative, the United States will keep a reserve of low-enriched uranium that, in the event of a market disruption, can be sold to countries that forgo enrichment and reprocessing. On 29June 2007, the DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) awarded a contract to Wesdyne International, LLC (a subsidiary of Westinghouse Electric Company, LLC) and Nuclear Fuel Services, Inc. to down-blend the 17.4 tonnes of HEU between 2007 and 2010, producing about 290 tonnes of low enriched uranium fuel. The fuel will be available for use in civilian reactors by nations that are not pursuing uranium enrichment and reprocessing technologies. Qualifying countries will have access to the fuel at the current market price only in the event of an emergency that disrupts the normal flow of fuel supply.

In December 2008, an additional 67.6 tonnes of HEU was declared unallocated (not presently obligated or approved for a specific purpose or program) in the DOE’s Excess Uranium Inventory Management Plan. DOE stated that this material will become available for disposition gradually over several decades at a rate controlled by the rates of weapons dismantlement and the rejections of material from naval reactors.

In June 2009, NNSA announced that it had awarded a contract to WesDyne International LLC to down-blend an additional 12.1 tonnes of HEU between 2009 and 2012, producing about 220 tonnes of LEU. A small portion of the LEU will be sold to cover the cost of the programme, while the majority of the LEU produced in this programme will be stored in support of the MOX programme for the disposition of surplus weapons plutonium. …

very limited information is available concerning how much reprocessed uranium is used though available data indicate that it represents less than 1% of projected world requirements annually (Table 31). …

Mixed-oxide fuel produced from surplus weapons-related plutonium

In September 2000, the United States and the Russian Federation signed an agreement for the disposition of surplus plutonium. Under the agreement, both the United States and the Russian Federation will each dispose of 34 tonnes of surplus weapon-grade plutonium (enough to make more than 4 000 nuclear weapons) at a rate of at least two tonnes per year in each country once facilities are in place. Both countries agreed to dispose of surplus plutonium by fabricating it into MOX fuel for irradiation in nuclear reactors and the development of MOX fuel fabrication facilities is underway in both countries. This approach will convert the surplus plutonium to a form that cannot be readily used to make a nuclear weapon. In 2009, President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a joint statement on nuclear cooperation in Moscow that reaffirmed this commitment. …

The 68 tonnes of weapons-grade plutonium would displace about 14 000 to 16 000 tonnes of natural uranium over the life of the programme. This represents about 1% of world annual uranium requirements over the period of the programme. …

Depleted uranium stocks represent a significant reserve of uranium that could displace primary uranium production. …

However, this would require significant spare enrichment capacity that is not currently available.”

In 2008, world uranium production (43880tU) provided about 74% of world reactor requirements (59 065 tU), with the remainder being met by supplies of already mined uranium (so- called secondary sources) including excess government and commercial inventories, low enriched uranium (LEU) produced by down-blending highly enriched uranium (HEU) from the dismantling of nuclear warheads, re-enrichment of depleted uranium tails and spent fuel reprocessing. …

Although information on secondary sources is incomplete, they are generally expected to decline in market importance, particularly after 2013. However, there remains a potentially significant amount of previously mined uranium (including material held by the military), and it is feasible that at least some of this material could make its way to the market in a controlled fashion.”

China aims to develop own mines

18 Nov 2010. Xinhua.

http://news.xinhuanet.com/english2010/business/2010-11/18/c_13612126.htm

“China diversifies sources of uranium as nuclear power industry grows. Shi Shouhe, Cao Xiaofan, Zhang Zewei”

”“Exploration and exploitation of domestic uranium will be prioritized for the country's mid- and long-term development of nuclear power,” said Lu Xiaoming, director of the Nuclear Fuel Division of the China Atomic Energy Authority, at the China Mining Conference and Expo in north China's port city of Tianjin Thursday.

“We should rely on our own resources to acquire uranium,” said Lu. “We will intensify our geological survey efforts to have a clear understanding of uranium resources, and bring technical innovation to the exploration and exploitation of uranium for greater efficiency.” …

To bolster the development of China's nuclear power industry, it is necessary to look at overseas uranium resources. China will investment in and deepen cooperation with countries in the field of uranium, said Lu.

Further, China attaches great importance to uranium imports for increasing supply, he added.

Chen Yuehui, deputy president of China Uranium Corp. Ltd. (CUCL), said his company is spearheading the search for uranium in Australia, Canada and African countries. CUCL is a subsidiary of China National Nuclear Corp., China's biggest operator of nuclear power plants.

“By the year 2015, we shall have completed construction of two overseas uranium mines. They will have an annual production capacity of up to 2,500 tonnes and control uranium resources of 100,000 tonnes,” Chen said.”

WNA estimate of world production through 2009

Apr 2011. WNA page on production figures.

http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/uprod.html

“Uranium production figures, 1999-2008”

All in tU. Note some older figures kept from previous versions of the page.

By year:

Year Tons
1998 33719
1999 31065
2000 35186
2001 36360
2002 36036
2003 35576
2004 40178
2005 41179
2006 39670
2007 41282
2008 43853
2009 50772
2010 53663

Top countries 2010:

Kazakhstan  17,803
Canada       9,783
Australia    5,900

Kazakhstan

Apr 2011. WNA information sheet.

http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf89.html

“Uranium and Nuclear Power in Kazakhstan”

  • Kazakhstan has 15% of the world's uranium resources and an expanding mining sector, expecting almost 18,000 tU annual production in 2010, planning for 25,000 tonnes in 2011, and 30,000 tonnes per year by 2018.
  • In 2009 it became the world's leading uranium producer, with almost 28% of world production.
  • A single nuclear power reactor operated from 1972 to 1999, generating electricity and for desalination.
  • Kazakhstan has a major plant making nuclear fuel pellets and aims eventually to sell value-added fuel rather than just uranium. It aims to supply 30% of the world fuel fabrication market by 2015.
  • The government is committed to increased uranium exports, and is considering future options for nuclear power.

WNA summary on fuel from warheads

Jun 2011. WNA info page.

http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf13.html

“Military Warheads as a Source of Nuclear Fuel”

  • Weapons-grade uranium is highly enriched, to over 90% U-235 (the fissile isotope). Weapons-grade plutonium has over 93% Pu-239 and can be used, like reactor-grade plutonium, in fuel for electricity production.
  • Highly-enriched uranium from weapons stockpiles is displacing some 10,600 tonnes of U3O8 production from mines each year, and meets about 13% of world reactor requirements. …

Nuclear materials declared surplus to military requirements by the USA and Russia are now being converted into fuel for commercial nuclear reactors. The main material is highly enriched uranium (HEU), containing at least 20% uranium-235 (U-235) and usually about 90% U-235. HEU can be blended down with uranium containing low levels of U-235 to produce low enriched uranium (LEU), typically less than 5% U-235, fuel for power reactors. It is blended with depleted uranium (mostly U-238), natural uranium (0.7% U-235), or partially-enriched uranium.

Highly-enriched uranium in US and Russian weapons and other military stockpiles amounts to about 2000 tonnes, equivalent to about twelve times annual world mine production.

World stockpiles of weapons-grade plutonium are reported to be some 260 tonnes, which if used in mixed oxide fuel in conventional reactors would be equivalent to a little over one year's world uranium production. Military plutonium can blended with uranium oxide to form mixed oxide (MOX) fuel. …

Megatons to Megawatts …

In 1994, a US$12 billion implementing contract was signed between the US Enrichment Corporation (now USEC Inc) and Russia's Technabexport (Tenex) as executive agents for the US and Russian governments. USEC is purchasing a minimum of 500 tonnes of weapons-grade HEU over 20 years to 2013, at a rate of up to 30 tonnes/year from 1999. The HEU is blended down to 15,259 t of LEU at 4.4% U-235 in Russia, using 1.5% U-235 (re-enriched depleted uranium tails), to restrict levels of U-234 in the final product. USEC can then sell the LEU to its utility customers as fuel. The LEU is equivalent to about 140,000 to 150,000 tonnes of natural uranium from mines (depending on assumptions about enrichment).

By September 2010 the total [used so far] had risen to 400 tonnes HEU. …

For its part, the US Government has declared just over 174 tonnes of HEU (of various enrichments) to be surplus from military stockpiles. Of this, USEC has taken delivery of 14.2 tonnes in the form of uranium hexafluoride (UF6) containing around 75% U-235, and 50 tonnes as uranium oxide or metal containing around 40% U-235. Downblending of the UF6 was completed in 1998, to produce 387 tonnes of LEU. Some 13.5 tonnes of the HEU oxide or metal had been processed by September 2001 to produce 140.3 tonnes of LEU. In 2004 the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a licence for downblending 33 tonnes HEU by Nuclear Fuel Services in Tennessee and in 2005 the first delivery was made to a TVA power plant. …

DOE's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)* in 2005 announced that it was committing about 40 tonnes of off-specification HEU (with elevated levels of U-236) to the Blended Low-Enriched Uranium (BLEU) program. This material would be used by TVA. In 2008 NNSA was negotiating with TVA to release a further 21 tonnes of HEU under the program, which would yield about 250 tonnes of LEU, some of which might be sold to other utilities. …

In mid 2007 the NNSA awarded contracts to Nuclear Fuel Services and Wesdyne International to downblend 17.4 tonnes of HEU from dismantled warheads to be part of a new international Reliable Fuel Supply program - an international fuel reserve. …

Market Impact

Overall, the blending down of 500 tonnes of Russian weapons HEU will result in about 15,000 tonnes of LEU over 20 years. This is equivalent to about 152,000 tonnes of natural U, or just over twice annual world demand.

From 2000 to 2013 the dilution of 30 tonnes of military HEU is displacing about 10,600 tonnes of uranium oxide mine production per year, which represents some 13% of world reactor requirements. …

How the Market Works

Normally, a utility buys natural uranium from a mining company as “yellowcake” (U3O8) and has it converted to UF6. It then supplies this feed to USEC, paying them for the enrichment component. USEC runs its energy-intensive enrichment plant to separate an appropriate amount of enriched uranium (eg at 3.5 - 5.0% U-235, leaving a lot of depleted uranium). USEC then returns the enriched uranium to the utility for its reactor.

A different, and somewhat complicated, system is used for the Russian material. The utility supplies the feed component of natural uranium as before and pays USEC for the enrichment component. But instead of running their plant, USEC pays the Russians for some blended-down weapons uranium and passes this on to the customer utility as “enriched” uranium fuel. The customers receive the blended-down Russian material, paid for as if it were their own uranium which had been enriched.

USEC pays Russia for the enrichment services component (basically energy) of the low-enriched product it receives. This amounts to about 5.5 million SWU per year. Russia takes ownership of the corresponding amount of natural uranium “feed” provided to USEC by its utility customers for toll enrichment services. Under the 1999 agreement (below) at least 72% of the feed is sold to Cameco, Areva and Nukem in the proportion 45/45/10, and the remainder is sent to Russia for domestic use there. In 2009 Rosatom said that its portion of the natural uranium feed to date - worth US$ 2.7 billion - had been received in Russia.”

Global nuclear production dropped 4% in 2011

13 Apr 2012. WNA.

http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/EE-Fukushima_impacts_global_nuclear_generation_in_2011-1304124.html

“Fukushima impacts global nuclear generation in 2011”

“The amount of electricity generated by nuclear power plants worldwide fell by just over 4% in 2011, primarily due to reactors being idled in Japan following the Fukushima accident and Germany's reflex reaction to close its older units.

Total nuclear electricity generation in 2011 was 2518 TWh, 4.3% less than the 2630 TWh generated in 2010, according to figures from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Generation had increased in 2010 following three consecutive years of decline.”

Discussion

Enter your comment
VFUKY