Enough Uranium

There was a comment to the last post saying, among other things, that there isn’t enough uranium and that it costs more energy to refine uranium than nuclear power plants produce. I’ve seen a variation of this argument on anti-nuclear discussions.

From David Bodansky, Nuclear Energy (an excellent and easy to read reference book, get the second edition),

Adopting the probably conservative resource estimate of 20 million [metric] tonnes … A resource of this magnitude could sustain four times the present rate of generation for 80 years.

He then looks at research on extracting uranium from seawater, in very early stages yet, as it will be decades before this source is important. At current costs of $700/kg U, an order of magnitude more than uranium costs today, nuclear power costs would increase by 1.5 cent/kWh.

No one knows how much uranium there is because as long as there is enough for the next generation of plants, there is no incentive to go looking for more. Other technologies, such as extracting uranium from sea water, will only be studied for economic feasibility when other cheaper sources are exploited.

I don’t know the energy costs of refining uranium ore, but it would be surprising if countries such as France would continue to export nuclear power if they could have as easily have exported whatever energy they used to refine the uranium.

I highly recommend the Bodansky book.

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