A peer reviewed study in the journal Science of the Total Environment has provided what it says is firm evidence of an impending uranium supply gap, a situation that may threaten the prospects for nuclear power generation in countries like the UK and US.

China, India, the US and the UK in particular have made it clear that they are committed to nuclear power as a clean abundant source of energy that can fuel high growth economies, however the study indicates their energy strategies completely overlook potential uranium supply challenges.

Nuclear power plant

The Guardian reports that the new scientific study of worldwide uranium production warns of an imminent supply gap that will result in spiralling fuel costs in the next decades.

The study, based on an analysis of global deposit depletion profiles from past and present uranium mining, forecasts a global uranium mining peak of approximately 58 kilotonnes (kton) by 2015, declining gradually to 54 ktons by 2025, after which production would drop more steeply to at most 41 ktons around 2030.

“This amount will not be sufficient to fuel the existing and planned nuclear power plants during the next 10–20 years. In fact, we find that it will be difficult to avoid supply shortages even under a slow 1 per cent/ year worldwide nuclear energy phase-out scenario up to 2025. We thus suggest that a worldwide nuclear energy phase-out is in order.”

If the study is correct it represents a setback for the UK’s prospects for developing its nuclear power sector. In its most optimistic scenario the British government forecasts that nuclear power is expected to provide 86 per cent of the UK’s electricity at 75GW of capacity by 2050.

Study author Dr. Michael Dittmar, a nuclear physicist at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, described the nuclear component of the UK’s energy strategy to keep the national electric grid going even during the next 10 years as “effectively non-existent.”

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