There is a large and growing contingency of pundits, politicians, and constituents in the United States who believe that leaning in to nuclear power is the nation’s best bet at meeting the carbon emissions reduction goals set by the Paris Agreement. Although the Trump administration withdrew from the agreement in June of 2017, polling shows that the majority of United States citizens still want the country to honor its Obama-era commitment to the Paris Agreement to combat global climate change.
Despite 30 years of building next to zero new nuclear reactors, the United States is already the world’s largest producer of nuclear power, generating about 30 percent of nuclear power production globally. There are currently 98 nuclear reactors in the United States alone, and another 450 across the world, but if there is any hope of meeting the clean-energy targets set by the Paris Agreement, it’s not only necessary to phase out coal entirely and significantly increase usage of renewable resources, the United States would need to double its nuclear power production levels. If the United States is to adopt nuclear as a more significant part of its energy makeup, much less double it, an important question arises: where will the uranium be coming from?
This month, the United States’ Uranium Committee of the Energy Minerals Division, a group responsible for monitoring the actions and movements of the uranium industry and the nuclear power industry, released their 2019 Annual Report at the annual meeting of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists in San Antonio. The report assessed that the U.S. has more uranium than we would need to fuel hundreds of years of nuclear power generation, even if nuclear power was being relied on as a much more significant source of energy in the U.S. This is great news for nuclear supporters in the United States, though historically the country has not mined its own uranium but imported the radioactive metal from other countries--and there’s a reason for that.
As Forbes reports: “Since the 1990s, mostly from other countries like Canada and Australia. This is a good thing, as the uranium ores in these countries are much higher grade than ours and requires a lot less mining and refining to get the same amount of energy into the fuel. And, except for Russia, most of these countries are our allies.”
Speaking of Russia, as geopolitical tensions rise between Moscow and Washington, Russian leaders have threatened that they may soon put a stop to uranium exports to the United States as a reaction to U.S. sanctions and tariffs. What’s more, Russian nuclear power is on the rise under Putin, with seven reactors currently under construction, with an average of one large reactor coming online each year through the year 2028. Russia is also testing out a “fast breeder” reactor model that would allow their reactors to be more efficient and create less waste by consuming spent fuel.
The Uranium Committee of the Energy Minerals Division’s newly released report also shows that there have been recent and significant discoveries outside of the United States as well. “There have been numerous discoveries of high-grade uranium deposits in Canada and new low-grade deposits reported to be under development in Argentina and Peru.” Committee Advisory Group member James Conca write for Forbes. He goes on to say that “the main Australian uranium mine in South Australia has resumed operations.”
If the United States wants to keep up with the rest of the world when it comes to nuclear power, it will need to put a lot of investment into its ailing industry. The good news is that uranium in the United States is both cheap and plentiful, and the highest-grade uranium deposits in the world reside just to the north in Saskatchewan, Canada’s Athabasca Basin, luckily a close ally of the United States (for now). New deposits continue to be discovered all the time, and, in fact, a brand-new uranium deposit has been found in Alaska’s eastern Seward Peninsula. There is even a very controversial effort to begin uranium mining near the Grand Canyon.
By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com
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