Although the accident at Fukushima had repercussions in several countries, ever-increasing global demand means that nuclear energy is set to experience strong growth in rapidly developing parts of the world – says OECD
Despite the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident of March 2011, the development and growth of nuclear power looks set to continue in the coming decades. Although the accident at Fukushima has had repercussions for nuclear power in several countries, the ever-increasing global demand for electricity and the need to decarbonise electricity generation means that nuclear energy is set to experience strong growth in rapidly developing parts of the world. Alongside this demand for nuclear power, the demand for uranium - the fuel which powers nuclear energy production - is also set to rise. These are some of the findings of the new report Uranium 2011 – Resources, production and demand
- also known as the 'Red Book'.
According to the report, published by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development nuclear energy agency and the International Atomic Energy Agency, global demand for uranium is expected to continue to rise for the foreseeable future to the year 2035; during which period a significant growth in global nuclear power capacity is also projected. The Red Book points to global nuclear power capacity increases of between 44 per cent and 99 per cent from the total net generating capacity at the end of 2010. This would mean a medium-sized increase in the low-demand case and a big increase in the high-demand case, despite reactor shutdowns in Germany and Japan in the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi accident.
Much of this growth is expected to be spurred by demand in China, India, the Republic of Korea and Russia where the strongest nuclear power expansion is projected. This is primarily due to the need for competitively-priced electricity generating capacity in these countries. In meeting this demand for nuclear generating capacity, the availability of adequate uranium resources will therefore be an important factor.
According to the Red Book, currently identified resources are more than adequate to meet high case demand through 2035 - which would consume only 35 per cent of the total identified resource base. However, meeting the high-case demand will require timely investment in uranium mine development - especially given the long lead times required to license and develop the facilities needed to turn resources in the ground into refined uranium ready for nuclear fuel production. This typically takes in the order of ten years or more in most producing countries.
Total identified uranium resources, which increased by over 12 per cent since 2009, are at a global level likely to increase further - if favourable market conditions stimulate additional exploration. As in the past, increased exploration can be expected to lead to the identification of additional resources through intensified efforts at existing deposits and the discovery of new deposits of economic interest. Already between 2008 and 2010, there was a 22 per cent increase in uranium exploration and mine development expenditures, which in 2010 totalled more than $2bn.
Between 2008, when the last edition of the Red Book was published, and 2010 global uranium mine production also increased by more than 25 per cent. This was largely because of significantly increased production in Kazakhstan, currently the world's leading producer. Production in this country increased by 109 per cent with more modest increases recorded in Canada, China, India, Namibia, Niger, the United States and Uzbekistan. Global uranium production in 2011 was expected to increase by 5 per cent with a continuing but less rapid increase in Kazakhstan and expected increases in Australia and Uzbekistan. However, preliminary data suggests that this expected increase in production in 2011 was not realised owing to technical difficulties and other factors.
Strengthened market conditions will be required in order to bring the necessary investment for further increases in uranium mine production, if the projected increase in demand for uranium is to be met within the necessary time frame. The challenge is to continue developing environmentally sustainable mining operations to bring increasing quantities of uranium to the market in a timely fashion. Regardless of the role nuclear energy ultimately plays in meeting future electricity demand, the current uranium resource base is more than adequate to meet projected requirements and it is clear that these requirements will increase if projected growth in nuclear power generation is realised.Luis E. Echávarri is director-general of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development's nuclear energy agency