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Indications of a promising future for nuclear energy as demand for uranium surges

Indications of a promising future for nuclear energy as demand for uranium surges

Underground tunnels in the Canadian uranium mine Cigar Lake. Photo credit: Cameco.

By Anders Lorenzen

There are signs that the nuclear energy sector is finally starting to ramp up as countries are investing in more nuclear energy capacity to meet decarbonisation targets.

Uranium is a key component found in nuclear energy reactors and a new report predicts that the demand for the mineral is expected to climb by 28% by 2030 and nearly double by 2040, the World Nuclear Association (WNA) said.

The Nuclear Fuel report released biennially by WNA also outlined that since Russia invaded Ukraine last year, the interest in nuclear energy has risen with countries keen to ease their reliance on Russian energy primarily within oil and gas.

Surging demand

The report offered further details on the surging global demand for uranium: ‘From the beginning of the next decade, planned mines and prospective mines, in addition to increasing quantities of unspecified supply, will need to be brought into production,’ it stated Between 2016 to 2020 global uranium production dropped by a quarter to 47,731, but started its recovery last year reaching 49,335 tonnes.

The nuclear energy industry has struggled following the fallout of the 2011 tsunami in Japan as nuclear reactors were shut down not only in Europe but across the world and Germany accelerated its nuclear phaseout. The overrunning of projects and many not meeting their budgets have been a headache for creating a positive narrative for nuclear energy.

But the German energy crisis followed by their phaseout of nuclear energy as well as innovation and breakthroughs in the nuclear sector with new designs and models have seen a rebound of the sector.

Increasing capacity

By the end of June this year, global nuclear energy capacity stood at 391 gigawatts (GW) of electricity from 437 units with another 64 GW currently under construction. WNA expects nuclear energy capacity to increase by 14% by 2030 and surge by 76% to 686 GW by 2040. The bulk of the growth in new reactors is in the world’s two most populous and energy-hungry countries China and India. Growth will not all come from building new reactors but also by extending the lifetime of existing ones. The report notes countries with large reactor fleets, such as Canada, France, Japan, Russia and Ukraine, are allowing existing plants to operate for up to 60 years, and in the US, to 80 years.

WNA expects that the global demand for uranium for nuclear plants will rise to 83,840 tonnes by 2030 and 130,000 tonnes by 2040 – up from 65,650 this year.

While uranium is currently mined in 20 countries, about two-thirds of the global uranium production is found in just three countries: Kazakhstan, Canada and Australia. 

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