# Finding Fissile Fuel

A new wave of nuclear power plant construction has boosted the price of uranium reactor fuel

*Note (1/27/08): Due to an error, this sentence was modified after publication.

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1. 1. BILL HANNAHAN 01:17 AM 1/27/09

At what price does uranium become expensive?

If all our electricity was made with coal, a years supply of coal (14,200 lb) cost \$218 in 2005 and is much higher now and climbing. A years supply of natural gas (115,000 cubic feet) cost \$850 in 2005.

To make all U.S. electricity with current reactor designs, we only need 0.72 pounds / year / person.

For uranium to match the price of coal or natural gas, using current reactor technology, the uranium price would be \$303 or \$1,180 dollars per pound respectively.

Using breeder reactors we need 0.35 pounds / 80 year lifetime.

For uranium to match the price of coal or natural gas using breeder reactors, the uranium price would be \$51,500 or \$194,000 dollars per pound respectively.

The average American paid \$1,100 for electricity in 2005. Uranium cost is a small fraction of what we pay for nuclear electricity, about 0.2 cents per kWh. Uranium price spikes have little effect on our bill.

These numbers come from this paper

http://coal2nuclear.com/energy_facts.htm

Reports in the 1970s estimated the cost of extracting uranium from sea water at \$1,500 to \$2,000 per pound. R&D has reduced that to less than \$150 per pound, of uranium.

http://www.taka.jaea.go.jp/eimr_div/j637/theme3%20sea_e.html

http://jolisfukyu.tokai-sc.jaea.go.jp/fukyu/mirai-en/2006/4_5.html

The oceans contain 4.6 billion tons of uranium, half of which is sufficient to support 10 billion people at the U.S. level for 400 years using first generation reactors and over 30,000 years with breeders. In reality the oceans are continuously supplied with uranium by the erosion of land, so the uranium supply is effectively unlimited.

We do not need breeders for a long time but we should move forward with breeder R&D to reduce mining and waste volumes.

Why are there no sea water uranium extraction plants?

Historically price has been under \$60 / pound with a few big spikes.

http://www.uxc.com/review/uxc_g_hist-price.html

http://www.uxc.com/review/uxc_g_2yr-price.html

U3O8 is 85% uranium by weight.

Would you bet your life savings on uranium staying above \$150 / lb? I dont think so, and neither do professional investors, however if sea water technology keeps improving the cost may drop enough to make it happen sooner than most people think.

Sea water uranium is very important because it puts a cap of \$150/pound on the maximum sustainable cost of uranium for thousands of years.

Sea water uranium does not have to supply all of our uranium in order to cap the uranium price at \$150/pound. It only has to replace the percentage of land based uranium sources that cost more than \$150/pound, and that percentage is zero for the foreseeable future.

How does the mining of the uranium compare with the mining of coal? We only need � pound of uranium per person per year with existing reactor designs vs. 14,200 pounds of coal. We only need 6 ounces of uranium per lifetime with advanced reactors.

The uranium supply is effectively unlimited.

http://www.theoildrum.com/node/4558#comment-413193

2. 2. Rod Adams 04:01 AM 1/27/09

I now know why I stopped reading Scientific American a couple of decades ago. Slanted language has no business being in a scientific publication. For example, consider the following quote from the article: "For every metric ton of uranium ore pulled from McArthur River, roughly one metric ton of waste rock, often radioactive and rich in toxic heavy metals, is produced—and other mines produce even more waste rock per ton of ore." The intent of that is obvious, but a questioning mind might respond with the following internal dialog. "Didn't that waste rock just come out of the ground? Didn't the milling process simply take some of the radioactive material OUT of the rock? Why not just put the left overs back where they came from? What's the big deal?"

In addition, the article spends most of page 3 discussing the results of a "study" that has been widely and extensively panned by real experts in the field of uranium production and nuclear fission power plants. You can find one of the debunking articles here - http://tinyurl.com/c5dhct

It is also rather amazing to see that a very logical, and strategic decision by the US government to use commercial nuclear reactors to destroy 14,000 former Soviet nuclear weapons is somehow portrayed as a desperate attempt to fuel those reactors for a relatively brief, 20 year period of time. In fact, we have plenty of uranium in the US and that decision by the government to introduce the former weapons material actually resulted in some commercial harm to our indigenous suppliers because it took away half of their market for the common good.

The program did not, however, reduce the amount of uranium that we will be able to retrieve and it does not indicate that there are any real supply challenges other than rebuilding the mining and processing industry that got displaced when the megatons to megawatts program was implemented.

3. 3. Pete T 06:45 AM 1/27/09

McArthur River is not far from the Manitoba border - not Alberta. I have to wonder why "Yellowcake" has that name, if its brown or black. These two snippets make me wonder too about the veracity of the rest of the article.

Berol Robinson
EFN-USA
AEPN - Assn Ecologistes Pour le Nucleaire

5. 5. berol in reply to BILL HANNAHAN 09:37 PM 1/28/09

Bravo to Bill Hannahan for a clear, detailed and uptodate demonstration that there is enough uranium available to see us through.

Berol Robinson
EFN-USA
AEPN _ Assn Ecologistes Pour leNuclealire

6. 6. dfplant200 10:53 PM 5/21/09

In spite of decades of promotion of nuclear power by its various national and international regulatory agencies, it has failed to transcend it's niche usage.

On top of that, the unprecedented environmental impacts and catastrophes associated with nuclear power -- the seemingly inevitable impacts -- remain extremely alarming.

Even the business world has failed to embrace nuclear energy -- dozens or hundreds of failed business models.

And if that weren't enough to doom the concept, the unholy alliance nuclear energy has with nuclear weapons...

Well, the inability of nuclear energy promoters to accept the idea's demise makes me picture them as some cult of the battered and damaged wandering around, "Brains, must eat brains."

7. 7. harlz in reply to BILL HANNAHAN 09:46 PM 10/14/09

Excellent post Bill.

8. 8. harlz in reply to dfplant200 10:04 PM 10/14/09

Yep, dead, moridbund, delusional. This is the list of companys that want more of this defunct technology, and have paid millions for their application to be in the NRC's queue (from nrc.gov). And China and India are moving much faster.

Proposed New Reactor(s) Design Applicant :

Bell Bend Nuclear Power Plant U.S. EPR PPL Bell Bend, LLC
Bellefonte Nuclear Station, Units 3 and 4 AP1000 Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA)
Callaway Plant, Unit 2 U.S. EPR AmerenUE
Calvert Cliffs, Unit 3 U.S. EPR Calvert Cliffs 3 Nuclear Project, LLC and UniStar Nuclear Operating Services, LLC
Comanche Peak, Units 3 and 4 US-APWR Luminant Generation Company, LLC (Luminant)
Fermi, Unit 3 ESBWR Detroit Edison Company
Grand Gulf, Unit 3 ESBWR Entergy Operations, Inc. (EOI)
Levy County, Units 1 and 2 AP1000 Progress Energy Florida, Inc. (PEF)
Nine Mile Point, Unit 3 U.S. EPR Nine Mile Point 3 Nuclear Project, LLC and UniStar Nuclear Operating Services, LLC (UniStar)
North Anna, Unit 3 ESBWR Dominion Virginia Power (Dominion)
River Bend Station, Unit 3 ESBWR Entergy Operations, Inc. (EOI)
Shearon Harris, Units 2 and 3 AP1000 Progress Energy Carolinas, Inc. (PEC)
South Texas Project, Units 3 and 4 ABWR South Texas Project Nuclear Operating Company (STPNOC)
Turkey Point, Units 6 and 7 AP1000 Florida Power and Light Company (FPL)
Virgil C. Summer, Units 2 and 3 AP1000 South Carolina Electric & Gas (SCE&G)
Vogtle, Units 3 and 4 AP1000 Southern Nuclear Operating Company (SNC)
William States Lee III, Units 1 and 2 AP1000 Duke Energy

Them brains must be good!

9. 9. Bill McIntosh 05:54 PM 11/26/09

A bit too scientific.
Ignoes the fact that hundreds of new nuclear power plants are planned around the world, and these will require initial fuel loading, as well as ongoing fuel supply.
The cheaper option to the very expensive decommissioning of nuclear power plants, is to continue operation for another lifetime - 25 to 50 years!

10. 10. eco-steve 06:39 AM 12/2/09

When is anybody going to make the uranium extraction sites safe? How much will it cost? Who is going to Pay?

I am not a scientist, but feel an adequate explanation to you 1st paragraph could parallel lead based paint in your home.

Many times, (as long as no children are in the home) it is better to let lead based paint alone. The act of scraping or sanding it contaminates nearby objects and air that is inhaled.

Now scale that up to the size of a uranium mine, and you would not have to wait until thousands of Native Americans become sick to suspect there is a problem with the tailings; or geographical surface areas to become contaminated by wind blown fall out of dust particles.

Once it is dug up, it is a HAZARDOUS waste and disposal must meet legal impositions. -that is unless you do it on an Indian Reservation. In fact that is where our US government makes ammunition, for the same reason. It is tipped with depleted uranium, and US laws don't apply on Native American lands.

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