The Uranium Committee of the Energy Minerals Division released their 2019 Annual Report last week in San Antonio at the annual meeting of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. The Uranium Committee monitors uranium industry activities, and the production of electricity from nuclear power, because these drive uranium exploration and development in the United States and overseas.
We have more uranium (U) than we need for hundreds of years of nuclear power as a big chunk of our energy generation. Which is critical, since we need to double nuclear power to address climate change and replace coal, even as we ramp up renewables.
A principal objective of the Annual Report is to summarize important developments in uranium exploration and production of yellowcake (U3O8) needed for the 98 reactors currently in operation in the U.S. and the 450 reactors worldwide, including those under construction or planned for use in the future. (Full Disclosure – I am a member of the Committee’s Advisory Group)
The main points of this year’s Report are:
– There have been numerous discoveries of high-grade uranium deposits in Canada and new low-grade deposits reported to be under development in Argentina and Peru. The main Australian uranium mine in South Australia has resumed operations,
– The U.S. is the world’s largest producer of nuclear power, accounting for more than 30% of worldwide nuclear generation of electricity,
– Following a 30-year period in which few new reactors were built in the U.S., it is expected that two more new units will come online soon after 2020; others resulting from 16 license applications made since mid-2007 are proposing to build 24 new nuclear reactors, most of which are of the new small modular reactor (SMR) designs,
– The first zero-emission credit programs have commenced, in New York, Illinois, and other states,
– Significant uranium production cuts were made in 2017 from the world’s largest uranium producers,
– Most of the uranium purchased by utilities is contracted (based on the long-term price, which is currently $32/lb U3O8),
– South Korea currently operates 25 reactors providing 33% of that country’s power, and is building reactors on budget and on time for UAE,
– Japan is upgrading and re-starting most of its fleet of nuclear power plants after Fukushima,
– China plans to build 99 reactors by 2030, with government investment of over $100 billion. Current Chinese activities include 38 reactors in operation, 25 under construction, and 39 planned. They intend to double this number by 2040,
– India has turned to nuclear power to ramp up electricity production to match population growth rates and is also working on “fast breeder” designs,
– India plans to be 25% nuclear-energy-powered by 2050,
– Total production of U.S. uranium concentrate in 2018 was 1.6 million pounds U3O8, 33% less than in 2017, according to the U.S. EIA, from seven facilities: one mill in Utah (White Mesa Mill) and six in-situ leaching (ISL) plants in Nebraska and Wyoming (Crow Butte Operation, Lost Creek Project, Nichols Ranch ISR Project, Ross CPP, Smith Ranch-Highland Operation and Willow Creek Project).
– Senior U.S. uranium industry personnel indicate that mining in Texas and New Mexico might not be re-initiated for a number of years because of the low uranium prices, even as a new surficial uranium resource base has been identified in Texas by the U.S. Geological Survey.
Even so, a new U.S. uranium district has been identified in the eastern Seward Peninsula of Alaska on the eastern margins of McCarthy Basin. Thorium and rare-earth elements have been discovered in the surrounding igneous rocks, making it key to loosening China’s grip on our technological future. Even Virginia has a huge untapped U deposit.
Read more at Nuclear Power – Where’s The Uranium Coming From?