Global uranium resources are more than adequate to meet projected requirements for nuclear electricity generation, according to the latest edition of a United Nations-backed world reference guide.
Uranium 2005: Resources, Production and Demand, jointly prepared by the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimates the total identified amount of conventional uranium stock, which can be mined for less than $130 per kilo, at about 4.7 million tonnes.
Based on the 2004 nuclear electricity generation rate of demand, that is sufficient for 85 years, according to the study, also known as the ‘Red Book.’ Fast reactor technology would lengthen this period to over 2,500 years.
But world uranium resources in total are considered to be much higher. Based on geological evidence and knowledge of uranium in phosphates, the study considers that more than 35 million tonnes are available for exploitation.
By 2025, world nuclear energy capacity is expected to grow to between 22 per cent and 44 per cent, raising annual uranium requirements to between 80,000 tonnes and 100,000 tonnes. The currently identified resources are adequate to meet this expansion.
The spot price of uranium has also increased fivefold since 2001, fuelling major new initiatives and investment in exploration. Worldwide exploration expenditures in 2004 totalled over $130 million, an increase of almost 40 per cent compared to 2002, and close to $200 million in 2005. This can be expected to lead to further additions to the uranium resource base. A significant number of new mining projects have also been announced that could substantially boost the world's uranium production capacity., the guide says.
In the longer term, continuing advances in nuclear technology will allow a substantially better utilization of uranium resources. Reactor designs are being developed and tested that are capable of extracting more than 30 times the energy from the uranium than today's reactors.
The study provides substantial new information from all major uranium production centres in Africa, Australia, Central Asia, Eastern Europe and North America.
The OECD groups 30 member countries sharing a commitment to democratic government and the market economy, mainly the top industrialized nations.