CAPE TOWN (miningweekly.com) – Amid declining nuclear costs, more nuclear power stations are being constructed now than in any other time in history, according to Australian energy major Peninsula Energy Limited (PEN) CEO Gus Simpson.
Addressing delegates at the 2016 Investing in African Mining Indaba, Simpson conceded that the capital cost to develop a nuclear power station was about two-and-a-half times that of coal and more than three times that of gas – an issue that had been a significant barrier to the adoption of nuclear power.
However, the playing field had fundamentally changed, with the Koreans, Russians and Chinese driving down capital costs.
Simpson, whose company was conducting an ongoing prefeasibility study for a South Africa-based uranium project, said China, in particular, was providing a solution for other emerging economies that wanted to drive down nuclear costs through planned low-cost energy.
“The costs are now about the same as the upfront capital expenditure of a coal-fired power station. The overall costs of generating electricity through nuclear in the Chinese environment is a low-cost option.”
He said the developed world consumed about 200-million pounds of uranium, with consumption growing at between 3% and 4% a year.
Some 70 new nuclear power stations were being constructed outside the industrialised world in countries like China, India, Russia and in the Middle East, with another 160 reactors planned.
Simpson noted that, while demand for nuclear had dropped after a 15-m tsunami disabled the power supply and cooling of three Fukushima Daiichi reactors in Japan, causing a nuclear accident in 2011, interest was on the rise again.
He said PEN’s uranium operations in the US’s Wyoming state aimed to become a principal supplier to utilities. Production, which started last year, has averaged above expectations.
In South Africa, Simpson said PEN had started exploring for uranium in various parts of the Karoo. The company completed a scoping study in September 2013 and had started a prefeasibility study for the planned central processing plant.
“The prefeasibility numbers are looking extremely good,” said Simpson.
PEN had been awarded prospecting rights by South Africa’s Department of Mineral Resources over six project areas in the Western, Northern and Eastern Cape provinces across the Karoo. The prospecting areas included three historic deposits that were explored by the JCI and Union Carbide Exploration Corporation during the late 1970s and early 1980s.