The safety of nuclear plants is often debated, but we rarely hear about another potential issue for nuclear energy: peak uranium. That’s the point in time when when the maximum global uranium production is reached and begins to enter a permanent decline. And while we’ve known for some time that high-quality uranium supplies have been declining for the past 50 years, nuclear operators are finally getting nervous.
Kansai Electric Power, a uranium supplier in Japan, is in the midst of buying uranium mines to secure long-term supply. The company’s manager, however, believes that no amount of money will be able to buy all the uranium necessary for the years ahead.
According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the rapid expansion of nuclear power will almost double the world’s need for uranium by 2030. But unlike with peak oil, uranium fuel can be reprocessed— meaning that uranium supplies can theoretically be secured for hundreds of years.
Advanced reactors, fuel cycle technologies, and alternative fuels like thorium just need to be explored more thoroughly. And if things get desperate, we can start looking into unconventional uranium sources like phosphates, seawater, and uraniferous coal ash. Perhaps the current uranium panic will stoke interest in such exploration.
Photo CC-licensed by Flickr user Bionerd
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