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Global Energy Enterprise

Nuclear Generation and Fuel Supply

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Nuclear Generation

Bar graph of top 10 nuclear generation countries
Figure 5.4 Top 10 Nuclear Generation Countries
Click Here to expand for a text description of Figure 5.4
Top 10 Nuclear Countries (2014)
Country Billion kWh
U.S. 805.3
France 384.0
China 210.5
Russia 179.7
South Korea 154.3
Canada 97.4
Ukraine 81.0
Germany 80.1
UK 65.1
Sweden 60.6

According to the most recent data, all countries are within 5% - 10% of the previous year's generation, with the exception of China - which increased from 123.8 billion kWh to 210.5 billion kWh, an increase of over 40% (!) - and Germany, which reduced output by about 13% (91.8 to 80.9 billion kWh).

According to the World Nuclear Association, as of April 2018, there were 450 nuclear power reactors operating in 30 countries, and 60 new plants were under construction in with 150-160 more planned. They provided about 11% of the world's electricity in 2016 (the latest year global data are available). Interestingly, 16 countries relied on on nuclear energy to supply at least 25% of their electricity in 2016. France (72.3%), Slovakia (54.1%), The Ukraine (52.3%), and Hungary (51.3%) all derive over 50% of their energy from nuclear sources (source Nuclear Energy Institute).

To Read Now

Visit the World Nuclear Association and explore Nuclear Power in the World Today

Visit the World Nuclear Associations and explore Plans For New Reactors Worldwide

Visit the U.S. Energy Information Administration and read about the U.S. Nuclear Industry

In the USA, there are currently 99 operable commercial nuclear reactors at 61 nuclear power plants. The newest reactor came online in June of 2016 (Watts Bar Unit 2 in Tennessee). Prior to that, the last new reactor to enter commercial service in the United States was in 1996. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved construction of four new reactors in 2012. These were the first permits approved in more than 30 years, though 6 reactors have been shut down since 2013 (EIA, Energy Explained).

Since 1990, about 20% of our electricity has come from nuclear power generation, and this rate has stayed fairly steady.

Nuclear Fuel Supply

In Supply of Uranium, the World Nuclear Association describes the challenges and subjectivity of estimating uranium reserves. Following are some selected passages from this discussion.

Uranium is a relatively common element in the crust of the Earth (very much more in the mantle). It is a metal approximately as common as tin or zinc, and it is a constituent of most rocks and even of the sea...

An orebody is, by definition, an occurrence of mineralisation from which the metal is economically recoverable. Orebodies, and thus measured resources – the amount known to be economically recoverable from orebodies – are therefore relative to both costs of extraction and market prices. For example, at present neither the oceans nor any granites are orebodies, but conceivably either could become so if prices were to rise sufficiently. At ten times the current price, seawater, for example, might become a potential source of vast amounts of uranium.

The question of uranium supply clearly does not have a simple answer! One could say, that how much we "have" depends on how bad we want it--how much we are willing to pay. (This is true for estimating other types of reserves as well.)

With these caveats in mind, the WNA provides the table below.

Known Recoverable Reserves of Uranium, 2015. Note that 16 countries have 96% of all known Uranium.
Country tonnes U Percentage of World
Australia 1,664,100 29%
Kazakhstan 745,300 13%
Canada 509,000 9%
Russian Fed 507,800 9%
South Africa 322,400 6%
Niger 291,500 5%
Brazil 276,800 5%
China 272,500 5%
Namibia 267,000 5%
Mongolia 141,500 2%
Uzbekistan 130,100 2%
Ukraine 115,800 2%
Botswana 73,500 1%
USA 62,900 1%
Tanzania 58,100 1%
Jordan 47,700 1%
Other 234,000 4%
World Total 5,718,400 100%
Credit: WNA

The Council on Foreign Relations, Global Uranium Supply and Demand (2010) adds more perspective to our understanding of uranium reserve estimates (FYI, "grade of uranium ore" is the percent of ore that is actually uranium)

Still, the overall amount of uranium is less important than the grade of uranium ore, according to a 2006 background paper by the German research organization Energy Watch Group. The less uranium in the ore, the higher the overall processing costs will be for the amount obtained. The group contends that worldwide rankings mean little, then, when one considers that only Canada has a significant amount of ore above 1 percent--up to about 20 percent of the country's total reserves. In Australia, on the other hand, some 90 percent of uranium has a grade of less than 0.06 percent. Much of Kazakhstan's ore is less than 0.1 percent.

Toni Johnson. (2010). Global Uranium Supply and Demand. Retrieved February 2017.

As of the summer of 2018, the World Nuclear Association offered this conclusion about supply and demand:

The world's present measured resources of uranium (5.7 Mt) in the cost category less than three times present spot prices and used only in conventional reactors, are enough to last for about 90 years. This represents a higher level of assured resources than is normal for most minerals. Further exploration and higher prices will certainly, on the basis of present geological knowledge, yield further resources as present ones are used up.

However, they provide the following insight at a subsequent point in the same article (emphasis added):

This focus on rates of depletion suggests that one of the dimensions of economic sustainability of metals has to do with their relative rates of depletion. Specifically, it suggests that economic sustainability will hold indefinitely as long as the rate of depletion of mineral resources is slower than the rate at which it is offset. This offsetting force will be the sum of individual factors that work against depletion, and include cost-reducing technology and knowledge, lower cost resources through exploration advances, and demand shifting through substitution of materials.

Estimating the amount of nuclear fuel left is complicated. How long nuclear energy is used for will certainly depend on a variety of economic, technological, societal, and political factors, all of which will occur on a global scale. Much of it will likely depend on some of the issues addressed on the following page.