Global uranium supplies sufficient for nuclear needs with new generation technology

17th June 2008 By: Matthew Hill

Current global uranium resources will provide for 200 years of nuclear power generation at 2005 consumption levels, but this figure could shrink rapidly if there was a big drive for this technology around the world, an expert said on Tuesday.

International Nuclear Energy Academy chairperson Bertrand Barre said if there was, however, a more sluggish reemergence of nuclear power, there would be no questions around uranium supplies.

He told a breakfast function in Johannesburg that conventional global uranium resource stood at 15-million tons

"If there is a big renaissance, those two centuries [of supply] will shrink pretty quickly," he stated.

But Barre, who is also scientific adviser to French nuclear firm Areva, said that new generation technology, which would likely be commercialised by around 2040, would make redundant the question of uranium supplies running out.

"Present day pressure water reactors use less than 1% of the total energy contained in the uranium ore that has been extracted. It's pitifully low," he stated.

"But the 99% is still there in the huge supplies of depleted uranium, and we know of the technology that can use that as a fuel."

Barre was referring to what was called fourth-generation nuclear technology, which would likely be able to utilise far more of the potential energy in nuclear fuel.

"Generation four will be able to use 80% probably of the potential energy in uranium, as well as the already depleted uranium inventory, which makes a lot of centuries," he said, adding that uranium resources were no longer a limitation to nuclear power generation.

LOCAL SUPPLIES

Meanwhile, Barre stated that South Africa should not have any problem with domestically supplying uranium to power the 20 000 MW of nuclear power that State-owned Eskom planned to install by 2025.

Barre said that the country would have enough uranium resources to supply the five new nuclear power stations planned by 2025, but it could also source the fuel on international markets.

"Under the current programme, I don't think there would be any issues," he commented.

Earlier this month, Cabinet approved South Africa's nuclear energy policy, clearing the way for the country's planned big nuclear drive.

Barre said that, while South Africa did not have uranium resources as big as those in Australia or Canada, they were still "very significant".

He said that South Africa was the ninth biggest uranium-producing country in the world, and had the seventh biggest resources.

In March, Eskom nuclear fuel manager Hans Lensink said that the utility would require between 3 000 t/y to 4 000 t/y of U3O8, or yellow cake, by 2025.

South Africa's newly approved nuclear policy would allow the country to diversify its primary energy sources, and move away from an over-reliance on coal for electricity generation, which accounts for over 90% of the country's power generation.

This contributed to South Africa being among the highest emitters of greenhouse gases.