Thursday, March 6, 2008

World Uranium and Thorium Supplies

Today nuclear power offers large quantities of electricity that is cleaner than coal, cheaper than natural gas and more reliable than wind. Yet critics of nuclear power continue to allege that we are fast running out of uranium resources. .

Earl, Deffeyes & MacGregor in “World Uranium resources” Scientific American, Vol 242, No 1, January 1980, pp. 66-76, estimated world uranium resources. Although this paper does not appear to be online, their data can be found here.

Information about the uranium supply can be found here:

James Hopf discusses the uranium supply here.

The World Nuclear Association has issued a possition paper on Uranium Sustainability which states: The uranium resource is sustainable, with adequate known resources being continuously replenished at least as fast as they are being used. The essential dynamic is the strength of market forces when the market is constantly evolving through advances in human knowledge and the technologies of exploration, mining, and resource utilisation. Depletion of today’s known uranium resources will be more than counterbalanced by replenishment from new discoveries, technical progress and possible substitution.

In addition, a huge increase in efficiency is readily possible through the technological step to fast neutron reactors. This option – unique among mineral resources – offers the nuclear industry a special kind of insurance against future resource shortage.

It may therefore be fairly concluded that uranium supplies will be more than adequate to fuel foreseeable expansions of nuclear power. Indeed, in addition to its other noteworthy virtues, An abundant fuel resource will remain a crucial advantage of nuclear power.

The world faces many challenges in achieving a global expansion of nuclear energy to fully realize the technology’s clean-energy potential. A limited supply of uranium resources is not among them.

In fact Uranium resources from conventional sources compare very favourably with most other resources. Virtually no exploration for conventional uranium sources has been undertaken during the last 30 years. Most of the world’s land surface has yet to be explored for uranium. It is economically possible to extract uranium and thorium from phosphate ore and mine tailings, but this is not done because of the abundance of conventional supplies. This source alone amounts to millions of tons of both uranium and thorium.

For example Chattanooga shale of Tennessee contains about t 6 million tons of recoverable U3O8.

The Conway granite of New Hampshire;contains uranium and thorium deposits estimated to be of the order of tens of millions of tons.

Other unconventional sources of uranium include coal fly ash which contains significant amounts of uranium and thorium, and sea water.

The Japanese have demonstrated that it is technically economically possible to extract Uranium from sea water using low energy techniques.

For discussions see here,
and here.

There has been virtually no world wide exploration for Thorium, because there is no market for it. Standard references on Thorium state: “Present knowledge of the distribution of Thorium resources is poor because of the relatively low-key exploration efforts arising out of insignificant demand.” Still 2005 IAEA-NEA “Red Book” reported a probable Thorium reserve of of 4.5 million tons, but also acknowledge that there was insufficient data for much of the world to even estimate Thorium reserves. An Australian government reports states “The potential for thorium resources, particularly in types of deposits other than placer, is underexploredin Australia". Yet Australia has the largest reported thorium reserve in the world. Thorium is known to be 3 to 4 times as common on the surface of the earth as uranium. The current known thorium reserve of India could supply all of the electrical energy at the rate India now users for 300 years. Current Indian estimates place the Indian thorium reserves at between 3,60,000 and 5,18,000 tons. Indian scientists argue that "the potential of other resources like gas, oil, wind, solar and biomass is very limited." Yet solar energy advocate, D. Yogi Goswami claims that Thorium reserves are too limited to to permit a thorium economy.

The argument that we are running out of Uranium/Thorium resources, amounts to an appeal to ignorance, since you are arguing in effect that undiscovered resources do not exist, and that textbook accounts of proven reserves are always the end of the matter.

Currently uranium market prices are depressed by the effort of the US government to burn up the U235 and Pu239 left over from cold war weapons. Until that stock is drawn down their is virtually no need for new uranium. The only US uranium enrichment plant currently in operation, operates at far less than full capacity. In fact. it only operates at all because a US government owned utility, TVA buys enriched U235 from it. This arrangement has probably been made for national defense purposes. Until the weapons stockpiles are burned up, there is no incentive for more uranium or thorium explorations.

6 comments:

randal.leavitt said...

My goodness - are people still making claims that uranium and thorium are in short supply? Amazing! In Ontario we have enough uranium stored as fission fuel that has been used once to last us for a century. The oceans hold about 4 billion tons of the stuff which we know how to extract, and rivers wash enough new uranium into the oceans each year to more than make up for any that we would take out. Why would anyone completely discredit themselves by claiming there is a uranium shortage? People are funny!

Left Atomics said...

And...the US already has enough thorium mined and refined to run the first 30 GW LFTRs for 100 years!

David

Anonymous said...

It's sad to see some of the misinformation being spread by all the "peak everything" doomers out there. The Wikipedia entry on Peak Uranium is a prime example.

Charles Barton said...

I have seen this already, My present posts are directed at countering these highly irrational projections. Only limited explanations have been expended on the search for Uranium and thorium resources. It is assumed without the no of evidence that further searches will yield insignificant results. In fact World wide phosphate deposits are estimated to contain something like 22 million tons of Uranium. In addition they also contain very considerable amounts of Thorium. Chattanooga shale us estimated to contain 6 million tons of recoverable Uranium, and a large amount of recoverable thorium. The Eoei ratio for energy recovery from Chattanooga shale, is quite good.

Conway Granet, in New England has even better prospects for large scale Uranium and thorium recovery. Other significant uranium and thorium resources exist in the United States. Uranium in sea water is recoverable at costs that will not damage society. And because uranium is constantly flowing from virtually inexhaustible land sources into the sea, sea recovered of uranium is a sustainable resource. In short is is reasonable to assume that Uranium ande thorium can go on supplying society with large amounts of energy for thousads of years.

Charles Barton said...

I have seen this already, My present posts are directed at countering these highly irrational projections. Only limited explanations have been expended on the search for Uranium and thorium resources. It is assumed without the no of evidence that further searches will yield insignificant results. In fact World wide phosphate deposits are estimated to contain something like 22 million tons of Uranium. In addition they also contain very considerable amounts of Thorium. Chattanooga shale us estimated to contain 6 million tons of recoverable Uranium, and a large amount of recoverable thorium. The Eoei ratio for energy recovery from Chattanooga shale, is quite good.

Conway Granet, in New England has even better prospects for large scale Uranium and thorium recovery. Other significant uranium and thorium resources exist in the United States. Uranium in sea water is recoverable at costs that will not damage society. And because uranium is constantly flowing from virtually inexhaustible land sources into the sea, sea recovered of uranium is a sustainable resource. In short is is reasonable to assume that Uranium ande thorium can go on supplying society with large amounts of energy for thousads of years.

Anonymous said...

one reason for a higher energy demand (besides from the food demand) is to extract salt from seawater to supply the largest cities. in some countries freshwater is more expensive than fuel.

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