TORONTO (miningweekly.com) – Global nuclear power generation capacity is expected to grow by more than 45% over the next 20 years; however, a new pipeline of uranium mines will be needed after 2025 to supply the growing demand trend, a new report by the World Nuclear Association (WNA) has suggested.
Global nuclear generation capacity was set to grow from today's 379 GW of electrical output (GWe) to 552 GWe by 2035, according to the reference scenario of the association’s biannual Nuclear Fuel Report, published on Thursday.
"Nuclear electricity output is set to increase over the next five years at a faster rate than we have seen for more than two decades. We must build on that positive momentum,” WNA director-general Agneta Rising stated.
The report also provided two other projections. A lower scenario saw nuclear capacity stagnating to 2030, before dropping off with several reactor shutdowns before 2035. The more bullish upper scenario saw capacity rising to 429 GWe in 2020 and 720 GWe in 2035.
Nuclear power currently contributed about 11% of the world's electricity supply and was projected by the International Energy Agency to grow steadily in the next 20 years. According to the report, nuclear was seen as a critical element “in any credible strategy” to combat carbon emissions, while also contributing to security of energy supply.
The 40-year-old association held that the outlook for nuclear power around the world was improving until the Fukushima accident in Japan, in March 2011. Despite the setback that Fukushima represented, many countries were putting more emphasis on satisfying environmental and security of supply objectives in their energy strategies, which should favour increased nuclear power. The prospects for new reactor builds continued to be strong in China, India and Korea as well as in several countries in the European Union and the Middle East.
The report also found that the known global resources of uranium were more than adequate to satisfy reactor requirements to well beyond 2035. However, world uranium output had stopped rising, falling to 56 250 t of uranium in 2014. The currently depressed uranium prices had curtailed exploration activities and the opening of new mines, and, in some cases, resulted in mines being placed on care and maintenance.
Based on the report’s methodology, output would rise over the next ten years in both the reference and upper scenarios.
Meanwhile, secondary supplies of uranium were gradually playing a diminishing role in the world market, but would continue to be important up to 2035. Underfeeding of enrichment plants was expected to add significant quantities of uranium to the market up to 2025.
The report noted that by combining all primary and secondary sources suggested, the uranium market should be sufficiently supplied up to 2025, provided that all mines currently under development and also most of the planned and prospective mines entered service as planned. Beyond 2025, however, further uranium output would be required if the reference and upper scenarios for demand were to be satisfied.
However, WNA cautioned in the report that in both established and potential markets, nuclear power faced an increased competitive challenge from other modes of generation, especially in deregulated markets, while continuing to face regulatory and political hurdles. Electricity demand growth was low in most of the countries where nuclear power was well-established, but remained strong in many developing countries and it was in these countries that the great majority of nuclear capacity growth was to be expected.
Current fuel fabrication capacities were more than enough to cover expected demand for both first cores and reloads, but new investments would be required in the early 2030s if the upper scenario was to be realised.
The report concluded that rapid uranium demand growth in various countries, above all in China, coupled with a limited contribution of secondary supplies, would result in the need for additional mined uranium within the period of the scenarios. Some mine development was proceeding despite the current depressed condition of the uranium mining industry. In both the reference and upper scenarios, new mine supplies would be needed soon after 2025 and would require the development of ‘supply pipeline’ projects. Additional conversion and enrichment capacity was also likely to be needed in these scenarios.