Monday, August 15, 2005

Uranium shortage poses threat

Uranium shortage poses threat - Industry sectors - Times Online

By Angela Jameson, Industrial Correspondent

A GLOBAL shortage of uranium could jeopardise plans to build a new generation of nuclear power stations in Britain.

The dearth of uranium will be discussed at the World Nuclear Association’s symposium in London next month and could prove to be a major stumbling block in the nuclear industry’s attempt to have old nuclear power stations replaced with modern reactors.

While Britain has no plans to begin building a new generation of nuclear reactors, pressure has been growing to take a decision to restart a nuclear programme as a way of cutting carbon dioxide emissions that lead to climate change and reducing Britain’s reliance on imported gas.

However, a recent report by the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada said that there was likely to be a 45,000-tonne shortage of uranium in the next decade, largely because of growing Chinese demand for the metal. Prices for uranium have almost tripled, to about $26/lb between March 2003 and May 2005, after being stable for years.

According to the Organisation for Economic Co- operation and Development’s Nuclear Agency’s “red book” — its statistical study of world uranium resources and demand — the world consumed 67,000 tonnes of uranium in 2002. Only 36,000 tonnes of this was produced from primary sources, with the balance coming from secondary sources, in particular ex- military sources as nuclear weapons are decommissioned.

In 2001 the European Commission said that at the current level of uranium consumption, known uranium resources would last 42 years. With military and secondary sources, this life span could be stretched to 72 years. Yet this rate of usage assumes that nuclear power continues to provide only a fraction of the world’s energy supply. If capacity were increased six-fold, then the 72-year supply would last just 12 years.

Paul Mobbs, an environmental campaigner, said: “It would be unwise to advocate adopting the nuclear option when we have no realistic idea of how long the uranium resources will last. We would very quickly shift from shortages of oil and coal to shortages of uranium.”

Philip Dewhurst, chairman of the Nuclear Industry Association, said: “Increased demand for uranium is going to be a factor, but the industry believes that nuclear power has served the UK very well and that we should look at the issue of replacing those generators that are due to be closed, whether the uranium supply is plentiful or not.”

China has said that it intends to build 40 new nuclear power stations by 2020. Last month, Canadian officials confirmed that China wants to buy Canadian uranium and to participate in joint mining ventures. Canada is the world’s largest uranium producer.

Uranium mining production peaked in 2001. Experts believe that it will take more than ten years to open new mines.

Despite a resurgence in interest in nuclear power around the world, the Government has insisted that British Nuclear Fuels puts its Westinghouse division, which builds new power stations, up for sale. The company said that the decision to sell Westinghouse was prompted by 15 serious expressions of interest in the past 18 months.


Post a Comment

<< Home