Energy futureUranium report: Plenty more of the ore is available

Published 15 June 2008

Renewed interest in nuclear power increases new investments and expenditures for uranium exploration more than 254 percent over the two-year period from 2004 to 2006; new report says supply sufficient for next century

Amid heightened international interest in nuclear energy, countries are paying closer attention to a finite resource that helps to make nuclear power possible: uranium. A report released last week finds that new discoveries and re-evaluations of known conventional uranium resources will be adequate to supply nuclear energy needs for at least 100 years at present consumption level. Growing demand and higher prices have spurred greater investment in exploration and led to larger identified conventional uranium resources over the past two years. These are among the many findings in Uranium 2007: Resources, Production and Demand, the world’s most comprehensive publication on uranium. Colloquially known as the Red Book, it tracks present uranium supply and demand and assesses market dynamics to 2030 and beyond.

The uranium market has demonstrated recent strength, with major new investments and expenditures for exploration increasing more than 254 percent over the two-year period from 2004 to 2006. More than $774 million was spent globally on exploration in 2006. While global production dipped by 6 percent from 2005 to 2006, significant production increases were noted in Kazakhstan and the United States. The demand picture is increasingly complex, with significant nuclear power builds underway in China, India, Korea, Japan, and the Russian Federation, and phase-out programmes underway in several European countries. Yet the report notes that new builds along with plant life extensions should increase global installed nuclear capacity in the coming decades, thereby increasing demand for uranium. Projections for 2030 indicate a range of expected growth in demand from a low estimate of 38 percent to a high case of roughly 80 percent. In contrast to some other energy resources such as oil, the geographical distribution of uranium resources remain quite varied. Currently uranium is mined in twenty countries, with Iran being the latest entrant. Canada and Australia currently account for 44 percent of global uranium production, and other top uranium producers are Kazakhstan (13 percent), Niger (9 percent), Russian Federation (8 percent), Namibia (8 percent), Uzbekistan (6 percent), and the United States (5 percent).

Since 1965 the IAEA and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Nuclear Energy Agency (OECD/NEA) have used information provided from member countries and states to publish a joint report on major aspects of uranium production, demand, and trade. The 22nd edition, released this June, reflects information as of 1 January 2007. The report’s contents are made possible through official data obtained by questionnaires sent to relevant IAEA and OECD/NEA member countries, which number forty in total.