Unobtainium

youtube-Logo-2gc2reddit-logoOff the keyboard of Ugo Bardi

Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666
Friend us on Facebook

Published on Cassandra's Legacy on January 13, 2017

cassandra_retouched

Discuss this article at the Energy Table inside the Diner

Peak Uranium: the uncertain future of nuclear energy

 
 
Alice Friedmann recently posted on her blog "Energy Skeptic" a summary of the discussion on nuclear energy from my book "Extracted" (Chelsea Green, 2014). It is a well-done summary that I am reproducing here. Note that the text below mixes some of the considerations of the main text (written by me) and of one of the "glimpses"; that were written by other authors. The glimpse that reports the results of a model of future uranium production was written by Michael Dittmar. He told me in a recent mail exchange that his model seems to be doing pretty well more than two years after its results were published in "Extracted". (U.B.)

 

Peak Uranium by Ugo Bardi from "Extracted: How the Quest for Mineral Wealth Is Plundering the Planet"

 

 

 

Figure 1. cumulative uranium consumption by IPCC model 2015-2100 versus measured and inferred Uranium resources

 

 

 

[ Figure 1 shows that the next IPCC report counts very much on nuclear power to keep warming below 2.5 C.  The black line represents how many million tonnes of reasonably and inferred resources under $260 per kg remain (2016 IAEA redbook). Clearly most of the IPCC models are unrealistic.  The IPCC greatly exaggerates the amount of oil and coal reserves as well. Source: David Hughes (private communication)

This is an extract of Ugo Bardi’s must read “Extracted” about the limits of production of uranium. Many well-meaning citizens favor nuclear power because it doesn’t emit greenhouse gases.  The problem is that the Achilles heel of civilization is our dependency on trucks of all kinds, which run on diesel fuel because diesel engines transformed our civilization with their ability to do heavy work better than steam, gasoline, or any other kind of engine.  Trucks are required to keep the supply chains going that every person and business on earth require, from food to the materials and construction of the roads they run on, as well as mining, agriculture, construction trucks, logging etc. 

Nuclear power plants are not a solution, since trucks can’t run on electricity, so anything that generates electricity is not a solution, nor is it likely that the electric grid can ever be 100% renewable (read “When trucks stop running”, this can’t be explained in a sound-bite).  And we certainly aren’t going to be able to replace a billion trucks and equipment with diesel engines by the time the energy crunch hits with something else, there is nothing else.

Alice Friedemann   www.energyskeptic.com  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report ]

Bardi, Ugo. 2014. Extracted: How the Quest for Mineral Wealth Is Plundering the Planet. Chelsea Green Publishing.

Although there is a rebirth of interest in nuclear energy, there is still a basic problem: uranium is a mineral resource that exists in finite amounts.

Even as early as the 1950s it was clear that the known uranium resources were not sufficient to fuel the “atomic age” for a period longer than a few decades.

That gave rise to the idea of “breeding” fissile plutonium fuel from the more abundant, non-fissile isotope 238 of uranium. It was a very ambitious idea: fuel the industrial system with an element that doesn’t exist in measurable amounts on Earth but would be created by humans expressly for their own purposes. The concept gave rise to dreams of a plutonium-based economy. This ambitious plan was never really put into practice, though, at least not in the form that was envisioned in the 1950s and ’60s. Several attempts were made to build breeder reactors in the 1970s, but the technology was found to be expensive, difficult to manage, and prone to failure. Besides, it posed unsolvable strategic problems in terms of the proliferation of fissile materials that could be used to build atomic weapons. The idea was thoroughly abandoned in the 1970s, when the US Senate enacted a law that forbade the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel.

A similar fate was encountered by another idea that involved “breeding” a nuclear fuel from a naturally existing element—thorium. The concept involved transforming the 232 isotope of thorium into the fissile 233 isotope of uranium, which then could be used as fuel for a nuclear reactor (or for nuclear warheads). The idea was discussed at length during the heydays of the nuclear industry, and it is still discussed today; but so far, nothing has come out of it and the nuclear industry is still based on mineral uranium as fuel.

Today, the production of uranium from mines is insufficient to fuel the existing nuclear reactors. The gap between supply and demand for mineral uranium has been as large as almost 50% from 1995 to 2005, though gradually reduced the past few years.

The U.S. mined 370,000 metric tons the past 50 years, peaking in 1981 at 17,000 tons/year.  Europe peaked in the 1990s after extracting 460,000 tons.  Today nearly all of the 21,000 ton/year needed to keep European nuclear plants operating is imported.
 

The European mining cycle allows us to determine how much of the originally estimated uranium reserves could be extracted versus what actually happened before it cost too much to continue. Remarkably in all countries where mining has stopped it did so at well below initial estimates (50 to 70%). Therefore it’s likely ultimate production in South Africa and the United States can be predicted as well.

 

 

 

Table 1. The European mining cycle allows us to determine how much of the originally estimated uranium reserves could be extracted versus what actually happened before it cost too much to continue. Remarkably in all countries where mining has stopped it did so at well below initial estimates (50 to 70%). Therefore it’s likely ultimate production in South Africa and the United States can be predicted as well.

 

 

 

The Soviet Union and Canada each mined 450,000 tons. By 2010 global cumulative production was 2.5 million tons.  Of this, 2 million tons has been used, and the military had most of the remaining half a million tons.

The most recent data available show that mineral uranium accounts now for about 80% of the demand.  The gap is filled by uranium recovered from the stockpiles of the military industry and from the dismantling of old nuclear warheads.

This turning of swords into plows is surely a good idea, but old nuclear weapons and military stocks are a finite resource and cannot be seen as a definitive solution to the problem of insufficient supply. With the present stasis in uranium demand, it is possible that the production gap will be closed in a decade or so by increased mineral production. However, prospects are uncertain, as explained in “The End of Cheap Uranium.” In particular, if nuclear energy were to see a worldwide expansion, it is hard to see how mineral production could satisfy the increasing uranium demand, given the gigantic investments that would be needed, which are unlikely to be possible in the present economically challenging times.

At the same time, the effects of the 2011 incident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant are likely to negatively affect the prospects of growth for nuclear energy production, and with the concomitant reduced demand for uranium, the surviving reactors may have sufficient fuel to remain in operation for several decades.

It’s true that there are large quantities of uranium in the Earth’s crust, but there are limited numbers of deposits that are concentrated enough to be profitably mined. If we tried to extract those less concentrated deposits, the mining process would require far more energy than the mined uranium could ultimately produced [negative EROI].

Modeling Future Uranium Supplies

Uranium supply and demand to 2030

 

 

 

Table 2. Uranium supply and demand to 2030

 

 

 

Michael Dittmar used historical data for countries and single mines, to create a model that projected how much uranium will likely be extracted from existing reserves in the years to come. The model is purely empirical and is based on the assumption that mining companies, when planning the extraction profile of a deposit, project their operations to coincide with the average lifetime of the expensive equipment and infrastructure it takes to mine uranium—about a decade.

Gradually the extraction becomes more expensive as some equipment has to be replaced and the least costly resources are mined. As a consequence, both extraction and profits decline. Eventually, the company stops exploiting the deposit and the mine closes. The model depends on both geological and economic constraints, but the fact that it has turned out to be valid for so many past cases shows that it is a good approximation of reality.
This said, the model assumes the following points:

  • Mine operators plan to operate the mine at a nearly constant production level on the basis of detailed geological studies and to manage extraction so that the plateau can be sustained for approximately 10 years.
  • The total amount of extractable uranium is approximately the achieved (or planned) annual plateau value multiplied by 10.

Applying this model to well-documented mines in Canada and Australia, we arrive at amazingly correct results. For instance, in one case, the model predicted a total production of 319 ± 24 kilotons, which was very close to the 310 kilotons actually produced. So we can be reasonably confident that it can be applied to today’s larger currently operating and planned uranium mines.

Considering that the achieved plateau production from past operations was usually smaller than the one planned, this model probably overestimates the future production.

Table 2 summarizes the model’s predictions for future uranium production, comparing those findings against forecasts from other groups and against two different potential future nuclear scenarios.

As you can see, the forecasts obtained by this model indicate substantial supply constraints in the coming decades—a considerably different picture from that presented by the other models, which predict larger supplies.

The WNA’s 2009 forecast differs from our model mainly by assuming that existing and future mines will have a lifetime of at least 20 years. As a result, the WNA predicts a production peak of 85 kilotons/year around the year 2025, about 10 years later than in the present model, followed by a steep decline to about 70 kilotons/year in 2030. Despite being relatively optimistic, the forecast by the WNA shows that the uranium production in 2030 would not be higher than it is now. In any case, the long deposit lifetime in the WNA model is inconsistent with the data from past uranium mines. The 2006 estimate from the EWG was based on the Red Book 2005 RAR (reasonably assured resources) and IR (inferred resources) numbers. The EWG calculated an upper production limit based on the assumption that extraction can be increased according to demand until half of the RAR or at most half of the sum of the RAR and IR resources are used. That led the group to estimate a production peak around the year 2025.

Assuming all planned uranium mines are opened, annual mining will increase from 54,000 tons/year to a maximum of 58 (+ or – 4) thousand tons/year in 2015. [ Bardi wrote this before 2013 and 2014 figures were known. 2013 was 59,673 (highest total) and 56,252 in 2014.]

Declining uranium production will make it impossible to obtain a significant increase in electrical power from nuclear plants in the coming decades.

 

 

7 Responses to Unobtainium

  • Disaffected says:

    Although this is plowing old ground, thanks for this anyway. Conventional nuclear, as well as its kissing cousin lithium electrical battery storage, have both been largely written off by all other than the most extreme liberal left as simply unfeasible on multiple grounds, the capitalist funding for which (the ONE thing capitalism is ACTUALLY good for!) tells the tale better than any technical analysis ever could. Both are little more than desperate "cargo cult" measures of last resort to extend and pretend the idea of a dying culture for however much time it has left in the bank, albeit at the expense of future human or other cultures 10,000 years in advance. I wonder what such prospective future denizens of terra firma might think of our "mortgage calculations" should they decipher them? My guess? A desperate and pathetic culture indeed!

  • Anti Troll says:

    "If we tried to extract those less concentrated deposits, the mining process would require far more energy than the mined uranium could ultimately produced [negative EROI]."

    As a retired science teacher I must insist on being a little pedantic here. EROI can never be "negative", EROI is the ratio of energy returned to energy invested and when it falls below one, such activity represents a net energy sink. NET energy however is what is important. Net energy is energy returned MINUS energy invested, and becomes negative when EROI falls below one. In reality energy pursuits become pointless when EROI falls below five, because the net energy available then falls off a cliff.

  • Pintada says:

    Of course, we all know that this resource crisis is the result of a political decision.  If breeder reactors had been pushed, and then built (rather than banned on April 7, 1977, President Jimmy Carter) the amount of fissionable material would be nearly infinite … add thorium reactors to the mix, and electricity could be by this time too cheap to meter.

    Now, it's way to late.

    • RE says:

      The problems with this idea are three fold.  First off, it was never economically profitable to build breeder reactors.  Nor is it profitable to make electricity “too cheap to meter”.  The investment into such reactors is enormous, and if it’s not profitable, there is no incentive to make such an investment.  Beyond that is the nuclear waste problem, which was never solved.  If it was solved, we wouldn’t have all the spent fuel ponds around which nobody likes.  Finally, after decades of operation any nuclear plant of any type needs to be decommissioned, which itself is an expensive process with no profit in it,  That’s why this bill always ends up on the taxpayer rather than the copany that built the plant to begin with.  It’s another one of those “privatize the profit and socialize the losses” schemes.

      So no, I do not agree that our energy propblems could have been resolved by building more Nuke plants in the 1970s.

      RE

      • There are something like 900 different potential reactor designs. One- or more could be adapted toward burning rad waste as fuel. Right now there is no real thinking in this direction b/c 'somebody else' is going to solve the waste problem and the sexy projects are weapons and maybe propulsion.

        Most things are 'more fun' than incinerators which are left standing behind the door.

        • RE says:

          With all these great designs out there, how come not a single one has been built anywhere in the world?  Not France, not China, not even the Military built one for their carriers and subs.  I don’t buy the “incinerators aren’t sexy” argument.  Why did they waste Billions on Yucca Mountain when they could have built an incinerator instead?  It doesn’t add up.

          RE

  • Industry is having a harder time managing the cost of new facilities + the cost of reactor waste recovery for legacy plants. This last is the problem never goes away: costs are rolled over into price tags of newer facilities. In other words, the industry has to build new in order to put recovery expenses onto new reactor balanace sheets. The costs compound exponentially = the industry is insolvent.

    Not much different from petroleum industry for that matter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Support the Diner
Search the Diner
Surveys & Podcasts

NEW SURVEY

Renewable Energy

VISIT AND FOLLOW US ON DINER SOUNDCLOUD

" As a daily reader of all of the doomsday blogs, e.g. the Diner, Nature Bats Last, Zerohedge, Scribbler, etc… I must say that I most look forward to your “off the microphone” rants. Your analysis, insights, and conclusions are always logical, well supported, and clearly articulated – a trifecta not frequently achieved."- Joe D
Archives
Global Diners

View Full Diner Stats

Global Population Stats

Enter a Country Name for full Population & Demographic Statistics

Lake Mead Watch

http://si.wsj.net/public/resources/images/NA-BX686_LakeMe_G_20130816175615.jpg

loading

Inside the Diner

Quote from: Eddie on April 24, 2017, 06:53:26 PMI went to a wedding on Friday, the nephew of a good friend, someone who went to school with my kids. After that, the missus and I had dinner and drove out to the lake cottage, arr...

Every time a picture of America’s Coolest Prez Ever gets posted on social media, the internet lights up like a Christmas...

Thanx for you replies Eddie and AZ!! 

The problem with these HMD's (home made deals) is one power failure & your whole afternoon is ruined.A dead cat bounce at best.

2017-04-23 - Legalized marijuana could help pay teachers in South Dakota:http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2017/04/03/cou...

Diner Twitter feed
Knarf’s Knewz

A recent string of robberies on BART trains took a [...]

US West enters 'new era' of unstoppable [...]

Doctors will be able to prescribe the medicinal us [...]

After years of huge losses and store closings, the [...]

Diner Newz Feeds
  • Surly
  • Agelbert
  • Knarf
  • Golden Oxen
  • Frostbite Falls

The Doomstead Diner Daily 4/25[html] [...]

Doomstead Diner Daily 4/24[html] [...]

Quote from: Surly1 on April 23, 2017, 10:06:41 AM[ [...]

Maritime Flags of Convenience VisualizedAugust 20, [...]

Quote from: agelbert on April 24, 2017, 11:48:23 A [...]

QuoteThe US is the wrecking machine that is destro [...]

Quote from: RE on April 23, 2017, 08:33:34 PMThe W [...]

A recent string of robberies on BART trains took a [...]

US West enters 'new era' of unstoppable [...]

Doctors will be able to prescribe the medicinal us [...]

After years of huge losses and store closings, the [...]

Saudi Arabia Switching to BRICS in Response to US [...]

Gold got hit again early this morning. The Masters [...]

Gold got algo-smacked yesterday just ahead of the [...]

pump n' dump pump n' dump pump n' d [...]

All the saber rattling is helping gold, which this [...]

Quote from: Palloy2 on April 22, 2017, 09:15:57 PM [...]

What OS, version, and screen pixels?  Android Kit- [...]

OK!  I have decided on the New Tablet to go with t [...]

First they came for the Bats, and I did not speak [...]

Along with discussing the attributes and prices on [...]

Alternate Perspectives
  • Two Ice Floes
  • Jumping Jack Flash
  • From Filmers to Farmers

Spring Has Sprung By Cognitive Dissonance   My apologies for being absent for the last week or so, b [...]

First Impression By Cognitive Dissonance . "You never get a second chance to make a first impre [...]

Fear, Pain and First Till By Cognitive Dissonance   Because I have been struggling with back issues [...]

It Hurts When I Do This By Cognitive Dissonance   “Well, then don’t do that” is the proper response [...]

Standard Issue Incompetence - More Evidence of Imperial Decay (Time for Fight or Flight?) By Cogniti [...]

Event Update For 2017-04-23http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.html Th [...]

Event Update For 2017-04-22http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.html Th [...]

Event Update For 2017-04-21http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.html Th [...]

Event Update For 2017-04-20http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.html Th [...]

Event Update For 2017-04-19http://jumpingjackflashhypothesis.blogspot.com/2012/02/jumping-jack-flash-hypothesis-its-gas.html Th [...]

When you wish upon a star the Blue Fairy sends Tinker Bell, who plants a magic seed, which grows int [...]

Wendell Berry: "What I stand for is what I stand on"; Fanfare Ciocărlia: "What we pla [...]

The sounds of the Romanian countryside, unleashed by Fanfare Ciocărlia for twenty years and counting [...]

Fanfare Ciocărlia's lead vocalists (and trumpet players) Radulescu Lazar and Costică "Cima [...]

When I finally made the first steps to end my abstention after more than ten years in the "musi [...]

Daily Doom Photo

man-watching-tv

Sustainability
  • Peak Surfer
  • SUN
  • Transition Voice

The Greater Fool"The overdeveloped countries are raising generations of gamblers."  All ecosystems, includ [...]

Confounding Collapse"As brilliant as your conceptual breakthrough may be, there is no escaping your cultural milieu [...]

The Flies of Summer"Any faith that China will be standing at the base of the burning building with a fireman’s net [...]

The Cool Lab"Is it possible that technology no more complicated than an Easy Bake Oven — one that pays for [...]

Rescuing Los Angeles"How can we use our hard wiring to communicate to the herd that it is time to veer off from a r [...]

 The Daily SUN☼ Building a Better Tomorrow by Sustaining Universal Needs April 3, 2017 Powering Down [...]

Off the keyboard of Bob Montgomery Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666 Friend us on Facebook Publishe [...]

Visit SUN on Facebook Here [...]

Click here to visit Sustaining Universal Needs’ YouTube Channel! [...]

In the echo-sphere of political punditry consensus forms rapidly, gels, and then, in short order…cal [...]

Discussions with figures from Noam Chomsky and Peter Senge to Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama off [...]

Lefty Greenies have some laudable ideas. Why is it then that they don't bother to really build [...]

Democracy and politics would be messy business even if all participants were saints. But America doe [...]

A new book argues that, in order to survive climate change and peak oil, the global money economy ne [...]

Top Commentariats
  • Our Finite World
  • Economic Undertow

And still under the assumption it is instant apocalypse. What if collapse is local and personal. You [...]

If there is a "mad max" scenario coming up, what will going to sea accomplish? So many pro [...]

Debt forgiveness is not the problem. Debt is the problem. We have no need for debt. Our system was d [...]

People from all walks of life end up driving taxis for a variety of reasons. It's more fun and [...]

I somewhat agree. Sooner or later there will be oil shortages and price spikes due to insufficient o [...]

Today's required reading: http://energyskeptic.com/2017/art-berman-oil-prices-lower-forever-har [...]

Steve, that video hurt my eyes! No, G*d, no! Things must be pretty bad not far below the surface, ZH [...]

Like I have been saying all over the place the tptb needs to maintain the illusion that it is still [...]

Missing the cowboys - and you too, Steve. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2d9DfnJwRNk [...]

Rape! Murder! Just an economist away. [...]

RE Economics

Going Cashless

Off the keyboard of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Simplifying the Final Countdown

Off the keyboard of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Bond Market Collapse and the Banning of Cash

Off the microphone of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Do Central Bankers Recognize there is NO GROWTH?

Discuss this article @ the ECONOMICS TABLE inside the...

Singularity of the Dollar

Off the Keyboard of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Kurrency Kollapse: To Print or Not To Print?

Off the microphone of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

SWISSIE CAPITULATION!

Off the microphone of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Of Heat Sinks & Debt Sinks: A Thermodynamic View of Money

Off the keyboard of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Merry Doomy Christmas

Off the keyboard of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Peak Customers: The Final Liquidation Sale

Off the keyboard of RE Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666...

Collapse Fiction
Useful Links
Technical Journals

This paper highlights the results of bioclimatic-envelope modeling of whiptail lizards belonging to [...]

Extreme weather, by definition, is any unexpected, unusual, unpredictable, severe or unseasonal weat [...]

Cities generally adopt territorial- or production-based rather than consumption-based emissions acco [...]

Follow on our http://www.doomsteaddiner.net/forum/