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The Advantages of Nuclear Energy in the Clean Energy Shift

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The following content is sponsored by Standard Uranium.

advantages of nuclear energy

Nuclear in the Energy Shift

The world’s population is projected to increase to 9.7 billion by 2050 and as the population grows, so will our energy needs.

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), global energy consumption will rise 40% by 2050, and electricity consumption will more than double. Meeting the rising demand for energy while protecting the environment will require clean energy sources that are powerful and reliable—and nuclear fits the bill.

The above infographic from Standard Uranium highlights the advantages of nuclear energy and its role in the clean energy transition.

The Advantages of Nuclear Energy

From cleanliness and reliability to safety and efficiency, seven factors make nuclear power essential to a clean future.

1. Carbon-free Energy

Nuclear power plants generate energy through fission, without any fossil fuel combustion.

As a result, nuclear power has one of the lowest lifecycle carbon dioxide emissions among other energy technologies. In fact, the use of nuclear power has reduced over 60 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions since 1970.

2. Low Land Footprint

Due to the high energy density of uranium, nuclear power plants can produce large amounts of electricity without taking up much space.

A 1,000 megawatt nuclear facility requires just 1.3 square miles of land. For context, solar and wind farms with equal generating capacity can occupy up to 75 times and 360 times more space, respectively.

3. Reliability

Of all the advantages of nuclear energy, reliability is one of the most important.

Nuclear facilities can generate electricity round the clock, contrary to solar and wind farms that depend on the weather. In 2020, U.S. nuclear power plants were running at maximum capacity 92.5% of the time, surpassing all other energy sources.

4. Resource Efficiency

All sources of energy use raw materials that help build them or support them, besides the fuels.

These can range from metals such as copper and rare earths to materials like concrete and glass. Nuclear power plants have the lowest structural material requirements of all low-carbon energy sources. They’re not only powerful but also efficient in their material consumption.

5. Long-term Affordability

The high capital costs of nuclear facilities are often cited as a potential issue. However, this can change over time.

In fact, nuclear reactors with 20-year lifetime extensions are the cheapest sources of electricity in the United States. Furthermore, the average U.S. nuclear reactor is 39 years old, and 88 of the 96 reactors in the country are approved for 20-year extensions.

6. Safety

Although conventional beliefs might suggest otherwise, nuclear is actually one of the safest sources of energy.

Energy sourceDeaths per 10 TWhType
Coal246Fossil fuel
Oil184Fossil fuel
Biomass46Renewable
Natural Gas28Fossil fuel
Nuclear0.7Non-renewable
Wind0.4Renewable
Hydro0.2Renewable
Solar0.2Renewable

Even including disasters and accidents, nuclear energy accounts for one of the lowest number of deaths per terawatt-hour of electricity.

7. Economic Contribution

Apart from the above advantages of nuclear energy, the U.S. nuclear industry also plays a significant role in the economy.

  • The nuclear industry directly employs 100,000 people, and creates thousands of indirect jobs.
  • A typical nuclear power plant generates $40 million in annual labor income.
  • The nuclear industry adds $60 billion to U.S. GDP annually.

Nuclear is not only clean, safe, and reliable but it also has positive ramifications on the economy.

Nuclear Power for the Future

Transitioning to a cleaner future while increasing energy production may be difficult without new nuclear sources—largely because other renewable energy sources aren’t as powerful, reliable, or efficient.

As the energy shift ramps up, nuclear power will be an essential part of our clean energy mix.

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Energy Shift

70 Years of Global Uranium Production by Country

Global uranium production has been affected by world events throughout history. Here’s how uranium production has evolved over 70 years.

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uranium production by country

70 Years of Global Uranium Production by Country

Uranium was discovered just over 200 years ago in 1789, and today, it’s among the world’s most important energy minerals.

Throughout history, several events have left their imprints on global uranium production, from the invention of nuclear energy to the stockpiling of weapons during the Cold War.

The above infographic visualizes over 70 years of uranium production by country using data from the Nuclear Energy Agency.

The Pre-nuclear Power Era

The first commercial nuclear power plant came online in 1956. Before that, uranium production was mainly dedicated to satisfying military requirements.

In the 1940s, most of the world’s uranium came from the Shinkolobwe Mine in the Belgian Congo. During this time, Shinkolobwe and Canada’s Eldorado Mine also supplied uranium for the Manhattan Project and the world’s first atomic bomb.

However, the end of World War II marked the beginning of two events that changed the uranium industry—the Cold War and the advent of nuclear energy.

Peak Uranium

Between 1960 and 1980, global uranium production increased by 53% to reach an all-time high of 69,692 tonnes. Here’s a breakdown of the top uranium producers in 1980:

Country1980 Production (tonnes U)% of Total
U.S. 🇺🇸16,81124%
USSR15,70023%
Canada 🇨🇦 7,15010%
South Africa 🇿🇦 6,1469%
East Germany 🇩🇪 5,2458%
Niger 🇳🇪 4,1206%
Namibia 🇳🇦 4,0426%
France 🇫🇷 2,6344%
Czechoslovakia 🇨🇿2,4824%
Australia 🇦🇺 1,5612%
Other 🌎 3,8015%
Total69,692100%

Several factors drove this rise in production, including the heat of the Cold War and the rising demand for nuclear power. For example, the U.S. had 5,543 nuclear warheads in 1957. 10 years later, it had over 31,000, and the USSR eventually surpassed this with a peak stockpile of around 40,000 warheads by 1986.

Additionally, the increasing number of reactors worldwide also propelled uranium production to new highs. In 1960, 15 reactors were operating globally. By 1980, this number increased to 245. What’s more, after the Oil Crisis in 1973, nuclear power emerged as a viable alternative to fossil fuels, and the price of uranium tripled between 1973 and 1975. Although the increase in uranium production was less dramatic, high prices made mining more profitable.

However, several nuclear accidents in the world such as the Three Mile Island reactor meltdown in the U.S. in 1979 and the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine in 1987 brought a stop to the rapid growth of nuclear power. Furthermore, following the end of the Cold War, military stockpiles of uranium were used as “secondary supply”, reducing the need for mine production to some extent. As a result, uranium production declined sharply after 1987.

The Current State of Uranium Mining

Uranium producers have changed considerably over time. Since the economic viability of uranium deposits often depends on the market price, many countries have dropped out due to lower uranium prices, while others have entered the mix.

Here are the top 10 uranium-producing countries based on 2019 production:

Country2019 Production (tonnes U)% of Total
Kazakhstan 🇰🇿 22,80842%
Canada 🇨🇦 6,94413%
Australia 🇦🇺 6,61312%
Namibia 🇳🇦 5,1039%
Uzbekistan 🇺🇿 3,5006%
Niger 🇳🇪 3,0536%
Russia 🇷🇺 2,9005%
China 🇨🇳 1,6003%
Ukraine 🇺🇦 7501%
India 🇮🇳 4001%
Other 🌎 5531%
Total54,224100%

Kazakhstan has been the world’s leading uranium producer since 2009. In 2019, Kazakhstan mined more uranium than Canada, Australia, and Namibia combined, making up 42% of global production. It’s also worth noting that Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Russia, and Ukraine—four countries that were formerly part of the USSR—made it into the top 10 list.

Canada was the world’s second-largest producer of uranium despite production cuts at the country’s biggest uranium mines. Australia ranked third with just three uranium-producing mines including Olympic Dam, the world’s largest known uranium deposit.

Overall, the top 10 countries accounted for 99% of global uranium production, and the majority of this came from the top three. However, global production has been on a downward trend since 2016, with a slight bump in 2019.

The Future of Uranium Production: Up or Down?

The uranium market is at an inflection point, with tightening supply and rising demand.

As of 2020, mine production covered only 74% of world reactor requirements, and analysts expect the market deficit to continue through 2022. Although secondary sources have historically filled the gap between demand and supply, recent developments in the uranium market have driven prices to six-year highs, which could also affect uranium production.

In addition, the shift towards clean energy could provide a boost to uranium demand, especially because of the advantages of nuclear power. With countries like China embracing nuclear energy and others planning for complete phase-outs, nuclear’s evolving role in the global energy mix will likely shape the future of uranium production.

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Energy Shift

The Future of Uranium: A Story of Supply and Demand

The uranium market is at a tipping point. Here’s how the forces of uranium supply and demand could change the direction of the industry.

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uranium supply and demand

The Future of Uranium: A Story of Supply and Demand

The uranium market is at a tipping point.

Since the Fukushima accident in 2011, uranium prices have been on a downtrend, forcing several miners to suspend or scale back operations. But nuclear’s growing role in the clean energy transition, in addition to a supply shortfall, could turn the tide for the uranium industry.

The above infographic from Standard Uranium outlines how uranium’s demand and supply fundamentals stack up, and how that balance could change the direction of the market in the future.

The Uranium Supply Chain

The supply of uranium primarily comes from mines around the world, in addition to secondary sources like commercial stockpiles and military stockpiles.

Although uranium is relatively abundant in the Earth’s crust, not all uranium deposits are economically recoverable. While some countries have uranium resources that can be mined profitably when prices are low, others do not.

For example, Kazakhstan hosts roughly 1.2 billion lbs of identified recoverable uranium resources extractable at less than $18 per lb, more than any other country. On the contrary, Australia hosts a larger resource of uranium but with a higher cost of extraction. This varying availability of resources affects how much uranium these countries produce.

Country2019 production (lbs U)% of Total
Kazakhstan 🇰🇿50,282,97342.1%
Canada 🇨🇦15,308,88112.8%
Australia 🇦🇺14,579,15212.2%
Namibia 🇳🇦11,250,1769.4%
Uzbekistan 🇺🇿7,716,1706.5%
Niger 🇳🇪6,730,7055.6%
Russia 🇷🇺6,393,3985.3%
China 🇨🇳3,527,3923.0%
Ukraine 🇺🇦1,653,4651.4%
India 🇮🇳881,8480.7%
South Africa 🇿🇦762,7990.6%
United States 🇺🇸147,7100.1%
Rest of the World 🌎308,6470.3%
Total119,543,315100%

It’s not surprising that Kazakhstan is the largest producer of uranium given its vast wealth of low-cost resources. In 2019, Kazakhstan produced more uranium than the second, third, and fourth-largest producers combined.

Canada produced around one-third of Kazakhstan’s production despite the suspension of the McArthur River Mine, the world’s largest uranium mine, in 2018. Australia was the world’s third-largest producer with just two operating uranium mines.

However, production figures do not tell the entire story, and it’s important to look at how the market price of uranium impacts supply.

How Uranium Prices Affect Supply

Low uranium prices have had a twofold effect on uranium supply over the last decade.

Firstly, miners have cut back on production due to the weakness in prices, reducing the primary supply of uranium. Here are some production cutbacks from major uranium mining companies:

YearCompanyProduction Cutback
2016Cameco 🇨🇦Production at Rabbit Lake Mine suspended
2017Kazatomprom 🇰🇿Output reduced by 10%
2018Kazatomprom 🇰🇿Output reduced by 20%
2018Paladin Energy 🇦🇺 Production at Langer Heinrich Mine suspended
2018Cameco 🇨🇦Production at McArthur River Mine suspended
2019Kazatomprom 🇰🇿Output reduced by 20%

Table excludes suspensions induced by COVID-19.
Sources: Cameco, WISE Uranium Project, Paladin Energy

In addition, low prices have also blocked new supplies from entering the market. Around 46% of the world’s identified uranium resources, 8 million tonnes, have an extraction cost higher than $59 per lb. However, uranium prices have hovered close to $30 per lb since 2011, making these resources uneconomic.

As a result, the supply of uranium has been tightening, and in 2020, mine production of uranium covered only 74% of global reactor requirements.

Going Nuclear: The Future of Uranium

The world is moving towards a cleaner energy future, and nuclear power could play a key role in this transition.

Nuclear power is not only carbon-free, it’s also one of the most reliable and safe sources of energy. Countries around the world are beginning to recognize these advantages, including Japan, where all 55 reactors were previously taken offline following the Fukushima accident.

With more than 54 reactors under construction and 100 reactors planned worldwide, the demand for uranium is set to grow. Unlocking new and existing supplies is critical to meeting this rising demand, and new uranium discoveries will be increasingly valuable in balancing the market.

Standard Uranium is working to discover uranium with five projects in the Athabasca Basin, Saskatchewan, Canada, home of the world’s highest-grade uranium deposits.

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