Nuclear Development

Nuclear Energy Agency

ISSN :
1990-066X (online)
ISSN :
1990-0678 (print)
DOI :
10.1787/1990066x
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A series of publications from the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency on various aspects of nuclear development. The publications in this series provide authoritative, reliable information on nuclear technologies, economics, strategies and resources to governments for use in policy analyses and decision making.

Also available in: French
 
Forty Years of Uranium Resources, Production and Demand in Perspective

Forty Years of Uranium Resources, Production and Demand in Perspective

The Red Book Retrospective You do not have access to this content

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Author(s):
OECD, NEA
Publication Date :
24 Nov 2006
Pages :
280
ISBN :
9789264028074 (PDF) ; 9789264028067 (print)
DOI :
10.1787/9789264028074-en

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The biannual Uranium Resources, Production and Demand, also known as the "Red Book," was first published in 1965 and has since grown to be a recognised world reference on uranium. Over the 40 years of its existence, the Red Book has collected an impressive quantity of official data supplied by governments. This Red Book retrospective was undertaken to collect, collate, analyse and publish all of the key information collected in the 20 editions of the Red Book published between 1965 and 2004. Additionally, every effort has been made to fill in gaps in the record to provide the most complete and exhaustive information possible. As a result, the Red Book retrospective gives a full historical profile of the world uranium industry in the areas of exploration, resources, production, reactor-related requirements, inventories and price. It provides in-depth information relating to the histories of the major uranium-producing countries including Australia, Canada, France, Germany (including the former German Democratic Republic), the Russian Federation (including the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) and the United States. For the first time, for example, a comprehensive look at annual and cumulative production and demand of uranium since the inception of the atomic age is possible. Besides reporting and documenting the historical data, expert analyses provide fresh insights into important aspects of the industry including: the cost of discovery, resources to production ratios and the time to reach production after discovery, among others. Taken together, this Red Book retrospective provides the most complete record of the uranium industry publicly available, dating from the birth of civilian nuclear energy through to the dawn of the 21st century.
Also available in: French
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    Executive summary
    When the first Red Book was published in 1965, there were 29 reactors in operation worldwide with generating capacity totalling about 4 500 MWe. By 2003, 435 reactors were in operation with generating capacity totalling about 359 400 MWe. From 1965 to 2004, 20 Red Books were published, which over time tracked the growth of nuclear power and provided comprehensive official government data on uranium resources, exploration and production to the public. The 1965 Red Book included information relating to uranium resources in 16 countries with Reasonably Assured Resources (RAR) totalling 993 000 tU. By 2003 RAR totalling 3 169 000 tU were reported by 43 countries. The history of the Red Book has paralleled the growth of nuclear energy but has also been influenced by world events. Foremost among these was the Cold War, during which military requirements for uranium were a major influence on the uranium market. Other significant events included the oil crisis in 1973 that increased public awareness of the potential of nuclear energy, the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl reactor accidents that slowed the growth of nuclear power and the end of the Cold War in 1989 that led to introduction of significant secondary sources of uranium to the world market as well as the inclusion of new information on the uranium industries of Central and Eastern European countries beginning in 1991 and countries of the former USSR beginning in 1993.
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    Historical perspective
    The history of the Red Book dates back to January 1965, when the European Nuclear Energy Agency (ENEA) of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) established a Study Group on the long-term role of nuclear energy in Western Europe. A "Working Party", the precursor of the Uranium Group was formed by the ENEA to compile worldwide uranium and thorium resource estimates. The Working Party, which became a joint effort between the ENEA and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) about a year later, was responsible for preparing a series of 10 assessments of worldwide uranium supply between 1965 and 1982. A number of working groups were subsequently established under the direction of the NEA/IAEA to gather and publish information on a broad range of topics related to uranium exploration, resources and extraction.
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    Installed nuclear capacity
    Civilian use of nuclear power was initiated in the United Kingdom in 1957 with the opening of the Calder Hall 1 nuclear reactor, with generating capacity during the first year of 50 megawatts electric (MWe). From that modest beginning the industry grew to 435 operating reactors with a generating capacity of over 359 400MWe in 2003, when nuclear power accounted for 16% of the world’s electricity output (Figure 2.1). In addition, in 2003 there were 33 reactors under construction in 11 countries. Generating capacity grew at an average annual rate of about 20% between 1956 and 2003. Though masked by the scale in Figure 2.1, generating capacity expanded at an annual rate of about 55% between 1957 and 1973. By comparison the rate of growth between 1973 and 1990, the peak building years, was about 13% annually. Between 1990 and 2003, the average annual rate of growth in generating capacity was less than 1% per year. The leading countries in terms of nuclear generating capacity in 2003 are listed in Table 2.1.
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    Reactor-related uranium requirements (demand)
    As used in the Red Book, annual reactor-related uranium requirements "refers to natural uranium acquisitions not necessarily consumption during a calendar year". Between 1956 and 2003, 33 different countries have used commercial nuclear reactors and have had reactor-related requirements that are estimated to have totalled 1 513 327 tU. Detailed annual data are available in Appendix 3.1. Table 3.1 shows the reactor-related requirements for the five major users of uranium over that period.
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    Uranium market price
    The market price of uranium is an important barometer of the perceived balance between uranium supply and demand. Sharp increases in the market price suggest potential or perceived supply shortages, thus the need for increased prices to stimulate new supply. Conversely, declining prices indicate a real or perceived supply surplus. The net effect of falling prices is to force a scaling back of the production industry including possible closure of marginal producers to bring supply into balance with demand. In both cases perception of the supply/demand balance is highlighted to emphasise that the uranium market, like all commodity markets, is in part controlled by emotion and in part by hard facts. At any point in time the utility industry’s perception of the adequacy of supply translates into the reality of the market.
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    Exploration
    The element uranium was discovered by Martin Klaproth in 1789 in the mineral pitchblende derived from Jachymov (Joachimsthal) of the Bohemian part of the Erzgebirge (Kruzne Hory, Ore Mountains) in what is now the Czech Republic. Through the 19th century there were only limited uses for uranium, mainly ceramic glazes and pigmentation of glass (the famous green Bohemian glass) until the discovery of radioactivity by Rutherford at the end of that century. When the element radium was detected by Marie Curie at the beginning of the 20th century uranium was mined to extract radium, thus initiating the first uranium mining "boom". This early uranium mining activity did not, however, even begin to compare with the activity that took place once the fission of uranium was detected by Otto Hahn in 1938, initiating its use for military and energy purposes.
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    Uranium resources
    Uranium resources are the cornerstone of the Red Book, and along with uranium production capacity, represent the basis of uranium supply and as such they are vital to the future of the nuclear energy. Reporting of uranium resources has evolved considerably during the 40-year history of the Red Book, with a progression of changes in response to the evolving uranium market and growing sophistication in resource estimation. Resources are also among the most subjective topics addressed in the Red Book. To help offset that subjectivity, beginning with the very first Red Book in 1965 to the most recent edition, uranium resources have been reported according to varying confidence levels.
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    Uranium production
    Though the element uranium was discovered in 1789 its uses were mainly limited to ceramic glazes and pigmentation of glass until the discovery of radioactivity by Ernst Rutherford at the end of the19th century. When radium was detected by Marie Curie at the beginning of the 20th century uranium was then mined to extract radium, thus initiating the first uranium mining "boom". The modern era of uranium production began after fission of uranium was detected in 1938, followed shortly by a period of military application. In less than 25 years, from the first research for military purposes uranium production underwent a dramatic series of transformations, changing it from a commodity with minor commercial interest to major one of strategic significance before evolving to its current role as a fuel for generating electricity.
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    Naturaland enriched uranium inventories
    Until 1990, uranium production exceeded reactor-related uranium requirements. Since then, though requirements have exceeded production (Figure 7.5). By 2003, cumulative production still exceeded cumulative requirements by about 691 400 tU (Figure 7.6). Production of uranium for military purposes is, however, likely included in the cumulative production total, while military material is not reflected in cumulative demand. The exact amount of material that was dedicated to military purposes is not known, nor is it known how much of this material will remain dedicated to military purposes and how much will ultimately become available for civilian use. Therefore, though production exceeded requirements this does not represent a true inventory of excess material that will ultimately be available for civilian use
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    Unconventional uranium resources
    Prior to the 2003 Red Book uranium resources were broadly classified as either "conventional" resources or "unconventional" resources. Conventional resources were defined as resources from which uranium is recoverable as a primary product, a co-product or an important by-product (e.g. from the mining of copper and gold). Very low-grade resources or those from which uranium is only recoverable as a minor by-product were termed "unconventional resources".
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    Thorium
    The first Red Book, published in 1965, was titled World Uranium and Thorium Resources. Information on thorium resources was published in Red Books between 1965 and 1982, typically using the same terminology used for uranium resources, e.g. Reasonably Assured Resources (RAR) and Estimated Additional Resources (EAR). With the separation of EAR into EAR – Category I and EAR – Category II in 1983, thorium resources were correspondingly reported as EAR-I and EAR-II in the 1983 and 1986 Red Books. No revised estimates have been published in Red Books since 1986. An overview of thorium deposits and resources was published 1991.
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    Mine start-up and closure histories
    The initial motivation behind the concept of the Red Book was concern about the adequacy of uranium resources to sustain the nuclear fuel cycle. By 1970, the importance of adequate production capacity along with adequate resources was acknowledged when capacity information was first published in the Red Book in individual country reports. The 1973 Red Book expanded the reporting of production capacity by summarising capacity as of 1973 and also listing projected capacities for 1975 and 1978. Subsequent Red Books continued to expand the time frames included in future projections of production capacity; the 1988 Red Book included capacity projections between 1990 and 2030.
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    Environmental aspects of uranium mining and processing
    There are two different aspects of the environmental impact of the nuclear fuel cycle. As is noted in the 1989 Red Book, nuclear power offers an alternative to increasing emission of greenhouse gases. As part of the nuclear fuel cycle, uranium mining and processing contributes to the benefits of nuclear power. There is, however, the other environmental aspect of uranium production that is more on the public’s mind, namely the physical impact of mining and disposal of the waste products from processing uranium ore.
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    Epilogue – lessons learnt
    Since its inception after World War II, the modern uranium industry has evolved from one exclusively satisfying military requirements to the current emphasis on satisfying fuel requirements for civilian nuclear reactors generating electricity. As the industry changed, so too did the Red Book. Resource terminology was expanded to include more definitive resource confidence levels in order to provide industry and government planners with better tools to assess the adequacy of uranium resources to meet future requirements. Resource production cost categories were periodically adjusted in response to changing market price and sections were added or deleted from successive Red Books as the industry matured and responded to changing market and regulatory requirements, as well as societal expectations. As the civilian nuclear industry grew, concerns about the adequacy of resources to meet future requirements emerged. That concern led to Red Book projections of nuclear power and related uranium requirements well into the future. A look back on these projections gives sobering lessons as to the impact of world and industry-specific events on the accuracy of these projections. The oil crisis of 1973 propelled nuclear power into the spotlight as an alternative to fossil fuels, which in turn led to overly optimistic projections of growth in generating capacity and uranium requirements. Subsequently, the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl accidents in 1979 and 1986, respectively, had a chilling affect on nuclear power that lasted for decades.
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    Appendices
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