Climate Change, Polar Vortex’s and Nuclear Energy

Richard (Rick) Mills

Ahead of the Herd

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As a general rule, the most successful man in life is the man who has the best information

 

What does nuclear energy have to do with a polar vortex, record cold/snow and climate change? Read on to find out…

 

From the World Nuclear Association (WNA) we take the following numbers as updated January 3rd, 2014. An important point to remember is I’m only going to use demand numbers from ‘future reactors envisaged in specific plans and proposals and expected to be operating by 2030.’

Facts:

  • Currently there are 435 reactors operating worldwide producing 375,264MWe. Operable already means connected to the grid.
  • Currently there are 71 reactors under construction. Under construction means first concrete for the reactor has been poured, or a major refurbishment under way.
  • There are 172 reactors on order or planned. Planned means approvals, funding or major commitment in place, mostly expected in operation within 8-10 years.
  • There are 312 reactors proposed. Proposed means specific program or site proposals, expected operation mostly within 16 years.
  • Tonnes uranium required for reactors in 2013 = 64,978t

71 reactors under construction + 172 reactors on order or planned + 312 reactors proposed = 555 NEW reactors expected to be connected and supplying power to the grid WITHIN 16 YEARS!

 

Tonnes uranium required in 2013 was 64,978t, 64,978/435 = 150t uranium per reactor.

 

555 new reactors times 150t = 83,250t new uranium per year in 16 years.

 

Adding to that number an industry standard 900 MW LWR typically needs around 350 tons of low enriched uranium fuel on start-up, and about 150t per year after that.

 

These numbers are driven even higher by the increased demand from the industry for future bigger reactor sizes of up to 1200 MW per power plant.

 

In 16 years, in 2030, we could be using as much as 148,228t (326,101,600 lb) uranium per year - if all the new reactors are built and no reactors are taken-offline.

 

Demand forecasts for uranium depend largely on installed and operable capacity. Once nuclear reactors are commissioned its very cost effective to keep them running at a high capacity. When demand load changes, utilities can burn more, or less fossil fuel to meet the changing requirements.

 

Nuclear Saves New England…

 

“In New England, natural gas electricity generation faltered so much

that regional grid administrator ISO New England had to bring up dirtier coal and oil plants to try to make up the difference. Nuclear energy didn’t have many problems at all and actually became the primary provider of electricity in New England, just edging out gas 29% to 27% (Hartford Business). Oil generation made up 15% while coal accounted for 14%... coal stacks were frozen or diesel generators simply couldn’t function in such low temperatures. Gas choked up – its pipelines couldn’t keep up with demand – and prices skyrocketed. Nuclear did quite well throughout the vortex period. The entire fleet operated at 95% capacity, a ridiculously high value (NEI).” James Conca, Polar Vortex – Nuclear Saves the Day, Forbes

 

The latest forecast from the World Nuclear Association (WNA) has a base case demand of 205 million pounds of U3O8 for reactors in 2020 and 255 million lb for 2030.

 

UxC pegs its base case at 275 million lb with a high of 355 million pounds for 2030.

 

Current annual global uranium consumption is 190 million pounds, annual global mine production is 140 million pounds, resulting in a current 50-million pound deficit.

 

That’s today’s deficit. In 16 years time we’re suppose to ramp up uranium production (according to the WNA & UxC base cases), anywhere from 65,000 million lb all the way up to 135 million lbs new mined uranium? Two base case scenarios are telling us we need to at least double, maybe even triple, mined uranium production in just 16 years.

 

In 2010, 22% of uranium came from secondary sources (uranium stocks held by miners, power plant builders and plant operators, as well as government stockpiles) this number had shrunk to 14% by 2012.

 

The HEU agreement governing the sale of decommissioned Russian warheads expired the end of 2013 - 20 million lb’s of annual supply removed from the market.

 

The last time excess uranium supply was this low (8% as a percentage of demand) was just before Fukushima when the spot price was US$70/lb U3O8.

 

Considering it takes over 11 years to find, develop, permit and build a mine we better get busy.

 

Uranium mine production, also known as primary supply, met 86% of nuclear power generation needs in 2012. While this is up from 65% in 2005, the absolute gap has been rising – from 7,480t uranium in 2005 to 10,470t in 2012.

 

In 2012, eight companies marketed 88% of the world's uranium mine production and a net combined total of nearly 99% of world uranium consumption was being imported into user countries.

 

 

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