Critical analysis of world uranium resources

Scientific Investigations Report 2012-5239

Prepared in cooperation with the U.S. Energy Information Administration



The U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration (EIA) joined with the U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to analyze the world uranium supply and demand balance. To evaluate short-term primary supply (0–15 years), the analysis focused on Reasonably Assured Resources (RAR), which are resources projected with a high degree of geologic assurance and considered to be economically feasible to mine. Such resources include uranium resources from mines currently in production as well as resources that are in the stages of feasibility or of being permitted. Sources of secondary supply for uranium, such as stockpiles and reprocessed fuel, were also examined. To evaluate long-term primary supply, estimates of uranium from unconventional and from undiscovered resources were analyzed. At 2010 rates of consumption, uranium resources identified in operating or developing mines would fuel the world nuclear fleet for about 30 years. However, projections currently predict an increase in uranium requirements tied to expansion of nuclear energy worldwide. Under a low-demand scenario, requirements through the period ending in 2035 are about 2.1 million tU. In the low demand case, uranium identified in existing and developing mines is adequate to supply requirements. However, whether or not these identified resources will be developed rapidly enough to provide an uninterrupted fuel supply to expanded nuclear facilities could not be determined. On the basis of a scenario of high demand through 2035, 2.6 million tU is required and identified resources in operating or developing mines is inadequate. Beyond 2035, when requirements could exceed resources in these developing properties, other sources will need to be developed from less well-assured resources, deposits not yet at the prefeasibility stage, resources that are currently subeconomic, secondary sources, undiscovered conventional resources, and unconventional uranium supplies. This report’s analysis of 141 mines that are operating or are being actively developed identifies 2.7 million tU of in-situ uranium resources worldwide, approximately 2.1 million tU recoverable after mining and milling losses were deducted. Sixty-four operating mines report a total of 1.4 million tU of in-situ RAR (about 1 million tU recoverable). Seventy-seven developing mines/production centers report 1.3 million tU in-situ Reasonably Assured Resources (RAR) (about 1.1 million tU recoverable), which have a reasonable chance of producing uranium within 5 years. Most of the production is projected to come from conventional underground or open pit mines as opposed to in-situ leach mines. Production capacity in operating mines is about 76,000 tU/yr, and in developing mines is estimated at greater than 52,000 tU/yr. Production capacity in operating mines should be considered a maximum as mines seldom produce up to licensed capacity due to operational difficulties. In 2010, worldwide mines operated at 70 percent of licensed capacity, and production has never exceeded 89 percent of capacity. The capacity in developing mines is not always reported. In this study 35 percent of developing mines did not report a target licensed capacity, so estimates of future capacity may be too low. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) estimate an additional 1.4 million tU economically recoverable resources, beyond that identified in operating or developing mines identified in this report. As well, 0.5 million tU in subeconomic resources, and 2.3 million tU in the geologically less certain inferred category are identified worldwide. These agencies estimate 2.2 million tU in secondary sources such as government and commercial stockpiles and re-enriched uranium tails. They also estimate that unconventional uranium supplies (uraniferous phosphate and black shale deposits) may contain up to 7.6 million tU. Although unconventional resources are currently subeconomic, the improvement of extraction techniques or the production of coproducts may make extraction of uranium from these types of deposits profitable. A large undiscovered resource base is reported by these agencies, however this class of resource should be considered speculative and will require intensive exploration programs to adequately define them as mineable. These resources may all contribute to uranium supply that would fuel the world nuclear fleet well beyond that calculated in this report. Production of resources in both operating and developing uranium mines is subject to uncertainties caused by technical, legal, regulatory, and financial challenges that combined to create long timelines between deposit discovery and mine production. This analysis indicates that mine development is proceeding too slowly to fully meet requirements for an expanded nuclear power reactor fleet in the near future (to 2035), and unless adequate secondary or unconventional resources can be identified, imbalances in supply and demand may occur.

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USGS Numbered Series
Critical analysis of world uranium resources
Series title:
Scientific Investigations Report
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U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
Central Energy Resources Science Center
viii, 56 p.
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