Monday, June 20, 2005

Two At NEI Nuclear Notes

I had long ago sent off a list of questions to the folks running NEI Nuclear Notes, but had got nothing back from them on two of the more important issues, namely, the longevity of world uranium reserves were a substantial increase in nuclear power generation to go forward. They answered that question recently:
(IAEA) estimated world uranium resources in 2003 to be 3,537,000 metric tons, an amount adequate to fuel conventional reactors for approximately 50 years. The IAEA further estimated all conventional uranium resources to be 14.4 million metric tons, an amount which would cover over 200 years' supply at current rates of consumption.

Importantly, these forecasts do not include non-conventional sources of uranium, such as those contained in phosphates or in seawater, which are currently not economic to extract but represent a near limitless supply of uranium to meet increased demand. Clearly, there are very adequate uranium (and thorium) resources to fuel the world's expanding nuclear fleet.

Of course, "conventional uranium" means U-235, relatively rare.

Many European countries (e.g. Belgium, France, and Switzerland) and Japan now reprocess used nuclear fuel to produce new, mixed-oxide fuel (MOX), thereby reducing the need for new primary uranium supplies. Moreover, advanced breeder reactors that produce as much, or more, fuel than they consume, will be commercially available within the next two decades. In fact, these reactors use the uranium 238 isotope as fuel which is one of the more abundant elements in the earth's crust.
Of course, what that means is that breeder reactors are commercially unproven.

(As a brief aside, this piece refers to the Club of Rome report made famous in the 1970's as "fully discredited", which one of the commenters suggested was only true for those who had never read it. He provides a link to a Matt Simmons PDF document, in which Simmons claims he is not a Malthusian. Simmons may be right about oil, but there's no evidence we're out of everything else just yet. He protests too much about his characterization as a Malthusian; anybody who can seriously use the word "overshoot" (p.37) needs to check his objections at the door.)

The second item talks some about the Nuclear Waste Fund, which of course is nothing of the kind. If it were, there would be an actual disposal site by now, but in fact the money is going toward almost everything but. As usual, most of the revenues from this tax -- and it is a tax -- is being funneled toward other projects.