[ExI] Uranium supplies

Max More max at maxmore.com
Fri Nov 27 18:32:37 UTC 2009

Eugene Leitl wrote:
>The problem is that they're covering all aspects (finds, estimates 
>of finds, ore quality over time, EROEI, current fuel reserves, 
>reprocessing, required capacity growth) so it is difficult to show 
>something they overlooked. I keep looking, but the detractor's story 
>keeps getting weaker and weaker, and theirs stronger.

I'll take a good look at their material. Thanks for the reference. 
They may be right -- I hadn't heard of serious concerns about 
uranium. From my first look, they make some compelling points about 
short-term availability of uranium. But so far I don't buy their 
analysis as a real and enduring peak.

What exactly is the conclusion that you came to? "Peak uranium" 
doesn't say much. How many years from now do you think uranium 
supplies will peak? Does that depend at all on whether new 
technologies and extraction methods are devised? Does it depend on 
the price of uranium? Answers to those questions would make it 
clearer what exactly you are convinced of.

>It is very difficult to argue with numbers

I really can't accept that you believe this, Eugene. You know very 
well that numbers don't just appear in a perfect genesis. They are 
arrived at by people, with their flaws and flawed methods. *Of 
course* you can argue with numbers. In fact, it's crucial to do so: 
Where did they come from? What methods were used to come up with 
them? What assumptions lie beneath the numbers and the methods by 
which they were arrived at? And so on.

Even if uranium supplies will peak in a few decades, we should be 
building more nuclear plants right now -- *especially* you regard 
global warming as a real and crucial problem.

-- How much supply is possible just using the richest deposits?

"Reactor requirements are fairly steady at about 60,000 tonnes per 
year. Thus there is about 50 years supply of uranium known at this 
stage to be available." "It is now clear that uranium is not scarce 
and it is known that it averages almost two parts per million of the 
Earth's crust. There are substantial resources that are not yet fully 
proven. These so-called speculative resources are likely to be of the 
order of 10 million tonnes, about three times the known reserves. 
While prices remain low, there is no incentive for exploration 
activities to identify new deposits. Experience with other 
commodities has shown that increased demand has led to increased 
prices, and a subsequent increase in exploration and discovery."

-- How much supply using lower grades? (It seems that there is a 
300-fold increase in the amount of uranium recoverable for each 
tenfold decrease in ore grade.)

-- How much supply if there were a large program to use fast 
breeders? (No, I not talking about Mormons.) Breeder fuel cycles 
could extend uranium and thorium supplies by at least one hundred 
times (some say 400) what is available from using U235.

-- The Oil Drum analysis (so far as I've examined it so far) seems to 
make no allowance for the probability that the stagnant demand for 
uranium hasn't spurred new discoveries or extraction methods. A major 
boost in demand would very likely spur increased supply -- just as it 
has done for oil, despite proven reserves not having changed much over decades.

As the Oil Drum says: "The overall fraction of nuclear energy to 
electric energy has gone down from 18% in 1993 to less than 14% in 
2008... The number of produced TWhe of electric energy from 
world-wide nuclear power plants is now lower than in 2005, and it has 
decreased by about 2% from a maximum of 2658 TWhe in 2006 to 2601 
TWhe in 2008."

One commentator on the Oil Drum piece says: "A large amount of 
uranium over the past twenty years has come from weapons 
decommissioning, particularly from former Soviet States. This 
availability has kept uranium prices low and discouraged exploration 
by miners."

I'll keep investigating the topic. I would be disappointed if nuclear 
turns out not to be a good, major long-term energy source, but if 
that's the best-supported conclusion I'll back other energy sources 
more strongly.


Max More, Ph.D.
Strategic Philosopher
Extropy Institute Founder
max at maxmore.com

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