Nuclear Fuel Supply
Abundant Supplies of Uranium
Uranium is one of the world’s most abundant metals and can provide fuel for the world’s commercial nuclear plants for generations to come. Higher uranium prices have prompted a re-examination of existing deposits and exploration for new ones.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 2010 jointly produced a report on uranium resources: "Uranium 2009: Resources, Production and Demand." It says that uranium resources are adequate to meet nuclear energy needs for at least the next 100 years at present consumption levels. More efficient fast reactors could extend that period to more than 2,500 years.
The utility industry is confident that the fuel supply industry will respond to increasing demand. Bolstering confidence in future supply is the fact that some of the world’s richest deposits of uranium are in politically stable countries. Canada and Australia account for 40 percent of global uranium production; the United States accounts for 3 percent.
In 2012, uranium of U.S. origin accounted for 20 percent of the material used by the owners and operators of U.S. nuclear power plants. The remainder came from other sources, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The U.S. uranium production industry is working to increase domestic supplies. For example, 2012 expenditures for uranium exploration and mine development in the United States were up more than 300 percent from 2004.
Revitalization of the U.S. uranium production industry also brightens the job market. Although the industry remains comparatively small, employment has tripled since 2004.
'Megatons to Megawatts' Program
A U.S.-Russian program to eradicate weapons provided the uranium to generate 10 percent of America’s electricity from 1993 to 2013.
The "Megatons to Megawatts" program involves the conversion, dilution and recycling of highly enriched uranium fuel from former Soviet nuclear warheads into low-enriched fuel for nuclear power plants. USEC Inc. purchases the uranium and then markets the fuel to its electric industry customers.
The program implements a 1993 agreement between the United States and Russia calling for Russia to recycle 500 metric tons of weapons-grade uranium from dismantled warheads. USEC reported that as of December 31, 2010, the program had recycled 412 metric tons of highly enriched uranium into 111,905 metric tons of low-enriched uranium—equivalent to 16,494 warheads eliminated.