Friday 18th October 2019

Resource Clips


Uranium: A 2040 prognosis

Growing energy needs, emissions reduction look positive for the other yellow metal

by Greg Klein

Oversupplied and under-priced for years, uranium’s forecast now looks good up to 2040, according to a new study. In its latest Nuclear Fuel Report, a study released at roughly two-year intervals, the World Nuclear Association has revised its projections upwards for the first time in eight years. Demand will come from a growing reliance on nuclear energy thanks mainly to China, India and other Asian countries, said the industry organization. Global warming concerns also play a role.

Growing energy needs, emissions reduction look positive for the other yellow metal

The report presents different data for each of three case studies, explained World Nuclear News, a WNA publication. The Reference scenario reflects official targets and plans announced by states and companies, and also considers how nuclear can help address climate change. The Upper scenario anticipates more favourable economics, greater public acceptance and increased dependency to offset climate change. The Lower scenario considers the possibility of negative public sentiment, a lack of political support and more challenging economics.

Even at the Lower scenario, the study foresees nuclear capacity remaining at its current level of 402 gigawatt electrical to 2040. The Reference scenario sees moderate growth to 569 GWe, while the Upper scenario predicts capacity almost doubling to 776 GWe.

The Upper and Reference scenarios show faster growth than at any time since 1990.

Even greater expansion would be required should countries adopt the WNA’s Harmony climate change strategy, which calls for nuclear to supply 25% of the world’s electricity by 2050.

The need for new primary uranium supply becomes even more pressing as a number of older mines are projected to be depleted in the second decade.—World Nuclear Association

The three scenarios “show that the capacity of all presently known mining projects (current and idled mines, projects under development, planned or prospective) should be at least doubled by the end of the forecast period, and the need for new primary uranium supply becomes even more pressing as a number of older mines are projected to be depleted in the second decade,” the WNA emphasized. 

“There are more than adequate uranium resources to meet future needs. However, oversupply and associated low uranium prices are preventing the investment needed to convert these resources into production. Uranium resources would be unlikely to be a limiting factor for the expansion of nuclear programs in order to meet the Harmony goal.”

As for uranium production, the report sees “fairly stable” volume until the late 2020s, but a sharp decrease from 2035 to 2040 “as a quarter of all mines listed in the model reach the end of their production lives,” the WNN stated. “Global output of 66,400 tonnes uranium in 2030 declines to 48,100 tU under the Reference scenario. For the Upper scenario the figures are 71,500 tU (2030) and 49,400 tU (2040). The partial return of currently idled mines to production is expected to begin in 2023 in the Reference case, 2022 in the Upper scenario and 2026 in the Lower scenario.”

In addition to Asia’s growing nuclear reliance, the report bases its positive forecasts on improved government sentiment in France, and in the U.S. at the federal and state level. Countries like Bangladesh, Egypt and Turkey will become significant producers of nuclear energy.

In our models, we don’t get excited on the demand side.—Kazatomprom CEO
Galymzhan Pirmatov,
as quoted by Bloomberg

The study crunched data from questionnaires sent to WNA members and non-members, publicly available info and “the judgement and experience of the members of the association’s working group.” Among the considerations were nuclear economics, government policies, public acceptance, climate change, electricity market structure and regulatory standards.

Co-chairing the working group was Riaz Rizvi, chief strategy and marketing officer for Kazatomprom, the world’s top uranium miner. But the positive forecasts seem to contradict his boss. Last June Bloomberg quoted CEO Galymzhan Pirmatovas saying, “In our models, we don’t get excited on the demand side.”

Using data from other sources, Cameco Corp TSX:CCO estimated an August 31 U3O8 spot price of $25.30 per pound and long-term price of $31.00, down from $26.30 spot and $31.25 long-term a year earlier. The company gives numbers of $60.50 spot and $70.00 long-term for March 1, 2011, 10 days before a tsunami hit Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi complex. As Japan shut down other reactors one by one, followed by a few other countries like Germany, the mining industry faced oversupply. Uranium prices fell steadily, sometimes dramatically.

Make no mistake, there is still a long way to go before we decide to restart McArthur River-Key Lake.—Cameco CEO Tim Gitzel

By January 2018 Cameco suspended its McArthur River mining and Key Lake milling operations, despite having put Cigar Lake into production less than four years earlier. Expressing cautious optimism last July, CEO Tim Gitzel added: “However, make no mistake, there is still a long way to go before we decide to restart McArthur River-Key Lake.”

But without them, Cameco has become more buyer than producer. To meet 2019 supply commitments, the company anticipates purchasing 21 million to 23 million pounds from other sources. That compares with an estimated nine million pounds expected from Cigar Lake this year.


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