Share This

Uranium Supply Will Meet Demand Beyond 2030, WNA Says

Oct. 24, 2013—World nuclear energy installed capacity will increase over the next 17 years, and the uranium supply will keep pace. A new report by the World Nuclear Association projects that nuclear energy will grow at 2.6 percent per year between now and 2030, maintaining its present 12 percent share of world energy capacity.

WNA’s 2012 Market Survey acknowledges that the 2011 accident at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi facility briefly dampened prospects for new nuclear energy build but notes that countries are again “putting more emphasis on satisfying environmental and security-of-supply objectives in their energy strategies.” China, India and South Korea “as well as a number of countries in the [European Union] and the Middle East” will fuel future new build, the report says.

The report presents a reference scenario and two scenarios based on it that project lower and higher levels of growth. In the reference scenario, worldwide nuclear energy capacity increases from 370 gigawatts in 2012 to 433 gigawatts by 2020 and to 574 gigawatts by 2030. The reference scenario takes account of nuclear facilities expected to be operational during the period covered and assumes the idled operable reactors in Japan will return to service.

The upper scenario increases growth to 466 gigawatts by 2020 and 700 gigawatts by 2030. The lower scenario assumes capacity stagnating through 2020 and then decreasing through 2030 as facilities close.

The WNA estimates that the world’s reactors now require about 62,000 metric tons of uranium per year. In the reference scenario, annual demand rises to 78,000 metric tons by 2020 and 97,000 by 2030.

WNA also provides lower and higher uranium demand scenarios to mirror the capacity scenarios, with the upper scenario increasing uranium demand to 87,000 tons by 2020 and 119,000 tons by 2030. The report says that mines beyond those now in development will be required beyond 2025 to meet the demand under the reference and upper demand scenarios.

Despite the relative lack of new uranium mining projects in recent years, WNA says that current known uranium resources can fulfill industry needs “well beyond 2030,” in part because the market price of uranium between 2003 and 2007 encouraged new mine exploration. However, lower market prices since 2007 have led to canceled or deferred projects, though these could be revived as needed.

WNA notes that secondary supplies of uranium are playing a diminishing role in the market. The 2013 end of the Russia-U.S. highly enriched uranium agreement, the basis for the Megatons to Megawatts program, will close a major secondary market source.

The report also examines the outlook for uranium conversion, enrichment and fabrication and notes the significant shift from gaseous diffusion enrichment facilities to newer centrifuge technology.

Suzanne Phelps, NEI’s director of fuel cycle policy and programs, said that the relatively low current price of uranium does not encourage new mine build, a process that in the United States can take as long as 10 years from selecting a site through licensing. The report does not project a need for increased uranium production until 2025.