De-carbonizing Our Energy Sector

Richard (Rick) Mills

Page 1 of 4

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


Nuclear energy currently provides around 11 percent of the world's electricity. China, the European Union, the United States, India, Russia, South Korea, and other nations’ have major existing fleets.  The World has hundreds of units under construction and proposed.  And, existing reactors which have reached their original estimated operating lives are being relicensed.  These factors, together with recent limited investment in new uranium exploration and development, might be good indicators of future improvements in uranium markets for potential investors looking at the sector.


According to the World Nuclear Association, China has 27 nuclear reactors in operation and another 27 under construction, with almost 100 more planned by 2030.  Some of the world's most advanced reactors will give China a three-fold increase in nuclear capacity to at least 58 gigawatts by 2020-21 and a further 150GW by 2030.  China has also committed to an ambitious target of building around 30 nuclear power plants in countries along the One Belt and One Road initiative by 2030.


The Energy Report, Thomas Drolet,


India is also in the midst of a major expansion of nuclear-power generation. Their target is to generate 25 percent of electricity from nuclear power by 2050, that’s up from four percent in 2013.  Canada's Cameco, the world's largest listed uranium mining company, signed a five-year deal with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi to buy 3,000,000 lbs. of U3O8 annually to supply fuel to Indian nuclear reactors.


Japan has restarted four reactors, which will accelerate in the coming years as the country returns to atomic energy, thereby reducing the chance that  uranium and nuclear fuel will be sold into the market.  Japan has restarted two nuclear reactors last year (at Sendai) and two more this year (at Takahama), and in total about 30 of Japan’s 54 nuclear plants will likely be restarted in the coming years.  While this represents only about 55% of the number of reactors operating pre-Fukushima, the units being shutdown are their smaller, older models that don’t use as much uranium.  It is estimated that Japan will return about 65%-75% of their previous capacity to service – and uranium consumption.  However, idling Japan’s reactors for a few years caused Japanese utilities to accumulate about 120 million pounds of uranium (they still honored their existing supply contracts). This is enough fuel to last the country’s nuclear fleet about 10 years.  Therefore, Japanese utilities might not be purchasing much uranium for a few years, but they shouldn’t be sellers holding back the spot price either.


Foratom, the European Union’s (EU) nuclear trade body stated that the EU should at least maintain its current capacity of nuclear power generation up to and beyond the year 2050. This would entail the start of more than 100 reactors over the next 35 years. According to World Nuclear News, this target delivers 122 GWe worth of nuclear capacity between 2025 and 2045. Handelsblatt, a German business and financial publication reports the European Commission is set to recommend investing 450 to 500 billion euro’s into nuclear power by 2050. Of that, between 45 and 50 billion Euros would go towards maintaining existing power stations. The remainder would be invested in building new plants.


The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasts an 18 percent growth in electricity demand in the U.S. by 2040. To maintain the benefits of a balanced mix of clean energy sources, the United States will need more than 100,000 megawatts of new nuclear-generating capacity by mid-century.  In the United States, about 90% of the country’s existing reactors will soon be relicensed for another 20 years, many for another 40 years, keeping the United States the biggest producer of nuclear power – at least until China surpasses the U.S., likely in the mid-2020’s.  The U.S. currently has a fleet of 99 nuclear power plants.  Like Japan, the U.S. is closing down some of their smaller older units, but replacing them with large reactors of 1,200 megawatts or more.  Current plants produce more than 60 percent of the United States’ carbon-free electricity, far surpassing solar and wind energy combined.


Electric vehicles


Because many countries consider energy independence and global warming as two of their key policy issues, governments attending the 2015 COP21 climate meeting in Paris forged a landmark agreement to reduce green gas emissions. They can only achieve these commitments by replacing the countries transportation fleet with electric vehicles, weaning citizens off fossil fuels, and increasing nuclear power use.  Wind and solar simply cannot do it alone.



The primary greenhouse gas emitted by human activities in the United States is CO2 - 83 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions. Fossil fuel combustion is the largest source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and has accounted for approximately 78 percent of emissions since 1990.


Electric vehicles (EVs) have far fewer moving parts than Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) gasoline-powered cars - they don't have mufflers, gas tanks, catalytic converters or ignition systems, there’s also never an oil change or tune-up to worry about.  Driving performance is excellent, prices are dropping … plug and go, convenient and very green!

But the clean and green doesn’t end there - electric drives are more efficient then the drives on ICE powered cars.  They are able to convert more of the available energy to propel the car, therefore using less energy to go the same distance.  And, in some vehicles like the Prius, applying the brakes converts what was simply wasted energy in the form of heat to useful energy in the form of electricity to help recharge the car’s batteries.


The bottom line for us earthlings is we need to de-carbonize energy.  The earth’s population is projected to climb from its current seven billion people to upwards of ten billion by 2050. Most of this population growth will come from developing countries.  All the people without power and all the new people will want some kind of vehicle, a motorbike, an electric scooter.  They will want TV’s, laptops, air conditioners, washers and dryers, phones, etc.  Nothing brings more people out of poverty than cheap and available energy.  These people will need electricity, not only to power all their modern conveniences, but to provide clean water, efficient heating and cooling, hospitals and clinics, schools and universities, modern medicine and innovation, etc.  They all want – and they deserve – the very same amenities we in the West take for granted.  And this will require enormous amounts of energy.


The quote below is from an article by James P. Hogan, Nuclear Power, It's No Contest


“A year's operation of a 1,000-MW coal plant produces 1.5 million tons of ash – 30,000 truck loads, or enough to cover one and a half square miles to a depth of 40 feet – that contains large amounts of carcinogens and toxins, and which can be highly acidic or alkaline depending on the sulfur content of the coal. Also, ironically, more unused energy is thrown away in the form of trace uranium in the ash than was obtained from burning the coal. Getting rid of it is a stupendous task, and it ends up being dumped in shallow landfills that are easily leached out by groundwater, or simply piled up in mountains on any convenient site. And that's only the solid waste. In addition there is the waste that's disposed of up the smokestack, which includes 600 pounds of carbon dioxide and ten pounds of sulfur dioxide every second, and the same quantity of nitrogen oxides as 200,000 automobiles.


An equivalent-size nuke, by contrast, produces nothing in addition to its cubic yard of high-level waste, because there isn't any chemical combustion. No ash, no gases, no smokestack, and no need for elaborate engineering to generate and control enormous air flows. Because of its compactness, nuclear power is the first major industrial technology for which it is actually possible to talk about containing all the wastes and isolating them from the biosphere.”


Shale Gas Demystified


I wrote the following about shale gas 3 years ago that discusses the limitations and risks associated with the recent oil and gas boom.  In case you think ‘fracking’ for oil and gas is to be our energy savior, you might want to think again.  The key to today’s boom is the now widespread use of certain technologies.  Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, and horizontal drilling have tapped huge resources previously thought unrecoverable.


However, the decline rate of shale gas wells is very steep. A year after coming on-stream production can drop to 20-40 percent of the original level.







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