Point 8: "You agreed to provide a follow-up
note on the availability of uranium supplies and the implications
of moving to poorer quality uranium ores (Q570 Q573). The committee
understands that the nuclear industry is itself concerned about
a possible lack of availability of good quality uranium ores beyond
2015. It is also interested in the carbon emissions associated
with mining and processing uranium ore, as there is some evidence
to suggest that such emissions can rise dramatically with poorer
Alan Johnson has also written to you about uranium
supplies. As Alan mentioned, DTI has undertaken no studies examining
the impact of lower grade uranium ores on carbon dioxide emissions.
However, the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency and IAEA have done considerable
work on uranium resources and their views are well respected internationally.
A joint report (Uranium 2003: Resources, Production and Demand),
"Known conventional resources are sufficient
for several decades at current usage rates. Exploitation of undiscovered
conventional resources could increase this to several hundreds
of years, though significant exploration and development effort
would be required to move these resources to more definitive categories.
However, since the geographical coverage of uranium exploration
is not yet complete worldwide there remains the potential for
discovery of new resources that could be exploited."
The table below gives a view of current understanding
of uranium resources.
Known Recoverable Resources* of Uranium
||tonnes U||percentage of world
| ||* Reasonably Assured Resources plus Estimated Additional Resourcescategory 1, to US$ 80/kg U, 1/1/03, from OECD NEA & IAEA, Uranium 2003: Resources, Production and Demand.
Thus the world's present measured resources of uranium in
the lower cost category (3.5 Mt) and used only in conventional
reactors, are enough to last for some 50 years. This
represents a higher level of assured resources than is normal
for most minerals. Further exploration and higher prices can be
expected, on the basis of present geological knowledge, to yield
further resources. IAEA-NEA figures estimate that with further
exploration of conventional resources these might amount to about
14.4 million tonnes, which is over 200 years' supply at today's
rate of consumption. This omits unconventional resources such
as phosphate deposits (22 Mt) and seawater (up to 4000 Mt), which
would cost two to six times the present market price to extract.
Improvements in reactor design and changes in reactor operation
have already led to increases in the amount of electricity produced
from a given quantity of uranium. However, these increases have
been small compared with the potential offered by new reactor
Widespread use of fast breeder reactor technology could increase
the utilisation of uranium sixty-fold or more. This type of reactor
can be started up on plutonium derived from conventional reactors
and operated in closed circuit with its reprocessing plant. Such
a reactor, supplied with natural uranium for its "fertile
blanket", very quickly reaches the stage where each tonne
of ore yields 60 times more energy than in a conventional reactor.
Uranium and plutonium from nuclear weapons that are being
dismantled are also now increasingly being used in power reactors
elsewhere in the world and this further increases the quantity
of fuel available.
A number of countries view the use of plutonium as a fuel
(ie MOXa mix of plutonium oxide and uranium) as part of
their strategy to manage their plutonium stockpile. In the UK,
currently only Sizewell B would be capable of using (about 30%)
MOX. Newer reactor designs, such as the Westinghouse AP1000, could,
however, reportedly operate on up to 100% MOX.
In addition, Thorium, which is 3 times as abundant as Uranium,
can be used in nuclear reactors. Further reducing in the longer
term the quantity of uranium used.
There are a number of sources of information that provide
data on carbon emissions from nuclear power stations relative
to other forms of energy generation. To take two, the chart below
shows the IAEA's assessment of relative emissions from different
The table below was published in "Hydropower-Internalised
Costs and Externalised Benefits"; Frans H. Koch; International
Energy Agency (IEA)-Implementing Agreement for Hydropower Technologies
and Programmes; Ottawa, Canada, 2000. This provides further evidence
that the life-cycle emissions impact of nuclear energy is among
the lowest of any form of electricity generation.
Emissions Produced by 1 kWh of Electricity Based on Life-Cycle
|Greenhouse gas emissions gram equiv CO2/kWh
||SO2 emissions milligram/
|NOx emissions milligram/|
|Particulate matter milligram/|
|Natural gas (combined cycle)||389-511
|Biomass forestry waste combustion||15-101
 The sulphur content of natural gas when it comes out of the ground can have a wide range of values, when the hydrogen sulphide content is more that 1%, the gas is usually known as "sour gas". Normally, almost all of the sulphur is removed from the gas and sequestered as solid sulphur before the gas is used to generate electricity. Only in the exceptional case when the hydrogen sulphide is burned would the high values of SO2 emissions occur.
20 December 2005
Reactor requirements are currently about 60,000 tonnes per year. Back