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The Coming Uranium Crisis 485

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the someone-just-invent-mr-fusion dept.
tcd004 writes "MIT reports that the world is running out of fuel for our nuclear reactors due to production limitations and an aging infrastructure. Nuclear power has gained popularity as a carbon-free energy source in recent years, but Dr. Thomas Neff, a research affiliate at MIT's Center for International Studies, warned that fuel scarcity could drive up prices and kill the industry before it gets back on its feet. Passport has pulled together some interesting numbers: there are 440 reactors currently in operation and 82 new plants under construction. The demand for fuel has driven the price of uranium up more than 40% in the last few months — 900% over the last decade. You can follow the spot price for a pound of uranium. "
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The Coming Uranium Crisis

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  • Yeah (Score:5, Funny)

    by voice_of_all_reason (926702) on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @09:18AM (#18514195)
    But they have free Super Saver Shipping, so it balances out.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by aeryn_sunn (243533)
      interesting though that this article [nytimes.com] about Uranium mineral rights came out today in the NYT as well.
  • by meringuoid (568297) on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @09:20AM (#18514225)
    ... Uranium's not all that abundant, we've known that for years. But the breeder reactors they're building in India can convert thorium to fissile material as a byproduct of their operation. There's enough potential energy in the available thorium supply to run the planet for an awfully long time. Whether it's economical to do so at present is another matter, but for long-term security there's no better consumable.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @09:26AM (#18514301)
      Uranium's not all that abundant, we've known that for years.

      This article is just another resource scare article. Uranium is not like oil in that it only forms in the upper levels of the crust on the Earth. You can find Uranium anywhere in the solar system. When they say that uranium is becoming scarce they mean that it is becoming scare in the east to reach places of the top 0.5 km of the 6371 km radius Earth.

      In an age where people understand such development principles like Moore's Law, you would think that people would have a little more imagination when it comes to the future of resource exploration in the next century or so.
      • by QMO (836285) on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @10:05AM (#18514809) Homepage Journal

        When they say that uranium is becoming scarce they mean that it is becoming scare in the east to reach places of the top 0.5 km of the 6371 km radius Earth
        Actually, that's not what they mean. They mean that people haven't invested in mining uranium lately. There is plenty of easy (for uranium) stuff in the US.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Suidae (162977)
          They mean that people haven't invested in mining uranium lately. There is plenty of easy (for uranium) stuff in the US.

          Uranium mining is great, but you can't do it in my state! (It's the one with a vowel in the name). Do it somewhere else.
        • by kestasjk (933987) * on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @11:52AM (#18516315) Homepage
          It's better; we've got so much uranium around we don't know what to do with it! The problem is we're using high uranium-235 fuel, leaving lots of u-238 around. We bury it underground, talk about throwing it into the earth's conveyor belt so it gets sucked under, etc.

          Interesting thing is that in the same breeder reactors as the GGP posted about you can use u-238 as a fissile fuel; it's a slightly more expensive process which is why we don't use it.

          We have somewhere in the range of 10,000 to 4 billion years of energy via breeder reactors (and they're currently in production; it's not science fiction, it's just a bit more expensive).
          Saying we're running out of uranium is like saying we're running out of rock. We've got so much of it around we're trying to get rid of it!

          I'd say this is anti-nuclear pro-drum-circle sensationalist garbage.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by dbIII (701233)

            Interesting thing is that in the same breeder reactors as the GGP posted about you can use u-238 as a fissile fuel; it's a slightly more expensive process which is why we don't use it.

            By slightly more expensive you possibly mean breeders like Superphoenix - which ended up to be more expensive per watt than even if you replaced the thing with a vast farm of 1980s photovolaics. An unfair comparison on my part because as a new type of reactor it showed us many ways not to do things that were not apperent bef

      • by hcdejong (561314) <hobbes@xmsnBLUEet.nl minus berry> on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @11:19AM (#18515847)
        In an age where people understand such development principles like Moore's Law, you would think that people would have a little more imagination when it comes to the future of resource exploration in the next century or so.

        Wait, you think that Moore's Law applies to anything besides semiconductor production? Do you know how rare it is to see such a quantum leap in performance, let alone have an industry keep this up for 20-30 years? Uranium isn't going to drop out of the sky on its own accord, it'll have to be mined, and the mining industry is subject to the same economic realities as the rest of the world (with semiconductor production as the sole exception).
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by fireboy1919 (257783)
          you think that Moore's Law applies to anything besides semiconductor production?

          I'm going to have to go with yes.

          While it is debatable, the generally held belief is that knowledge is increasing at a geometric rate.

          That's why Moores law works: knowledge of how to make the changes is really the only barrier to increasing efficiency of silicon production.

          Any other industry whose primary factor determining efficiency is knowledge should have similar results. Obviously, the ease of refactoring to meet the more
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Castar (67188)
          Uranium isn't going to drop out of the sky on its own accord...

          That's what *you* think. [slashdot.org]
    • by Tom Womack (8005) <tom@womack.net> on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @09:29AM (#18514335) Homepage
      Breeder reactors can also convert U238 to fissile plutonium, which is if anything more useful, since we already have reactors designed for Pu239 and I don't believe any reactors have yet been designed for Th233.

      The problem is that people paranoid about nuclear proliferation have successfully made it very politically difficult (it's not technically completely straightforward, you're running rather fiddly chemistry by remote-control in a very high radiation environment) to reprocess spent fuel to get the plutonium out for reuse.

      So the current nuclear fuel cycle is the equivalent of running a basic oil refinery, taking out the small jet-fuel fraction from crude oil, and then pumping the remainder back into the ground in places deliberately chosen to make it hard to take it out again. Breeder reactors are the equivalent of those catalytic-cracking columns in refineries which can make something useful out of the heavier crude-oil fractions.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by timeOday (582209)

        The problem is that people paranoid about nuclear proliferation have successfully made it very politically difficult
        Yes, that's the problem. Unfortunately I don't see a way to solve it, do you? Plutonium is pretty awesome stuff, and I don't think manufacturing it at 500 places around the world is such a great idea. Nuclear proliferation isn't a technical problem, but it is a problem.
        • by paeanblack (191171) on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @11:03AM (#18515637)
          Yes, that's the problem. Unfortunately I don't see a way to solve it, do you? Plutonium is pretty awesome stuff, and I don't think manufacturing it at 500 places around the world is such a great idea. Nuclear proliferation isn't a technical problem, but it is a problem.

          We can solve the problem by designing bigger and better weapons. A century ago, nitroglycerin manufacturing was once an international political issue. Today, we really couldn't care less if some country wants to play with dynamite. Once nuclear weapons no longer instill the greatest fears, the uranium industry can start operating without the detrimental extra-market forces.

          That's what we call the "peace dividend" :-/
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            I don't really think you're being honest here. Yes, there have always been terrorists or guerrilla forces that could use explosives to blow things up. But we're really living in a lot situation today. Back then it was highly unlikely some group halfway across the world could successfully plot an attack on American soil. It's also a matter of scale. You have to admit that there's SOME breakpoint where it doesn't matter how much better you can make weapons. If an old weapon will kill X people, it will A
          • by Glock27 (446276) on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @01:36PM (#18517717)
            We can solve the problem by designing bigger and better weapons. A century ago, nitroglycerin manufacturing was once an international political issue. Today, we really couldn't care less if some country wants to play with dynamite.

            The element of 'realpolitik' involved is that when a technology becomes so available it can't be controlled, the big powers just give up and move on to other problems.

            However, there is a qualitative difference between WMDs and earlier weapons. WMDs can easily erase a city, fairly easily erase a country, and realistically could erase all life from the planet. So, there is a great concern about them regardless of ease of manufacture.

            The bald fact is that both biological and chemical WMDs can be manufactured in very scary quantities in small labs now. Some of the recent developments with bioweapons make me personally more concerned with them than nuclear weapons. It is also possible that someone will finally figure out a practical method of laser uranium enrichment that'll eliminate all those pesky centrifuge cascades.

            What is my point? That WMD manufacture is entering or has already entered a similar phase to dynamite in terms of ease of production. I feel we still need to cripple Iran's nuclear program, but we also need to start a determined and intelligent civil defense effort so when the inevitable WMD attacks occur we survive with minimal losses.

            Will our species survive long enough to get off this rock? Stay tuned...

    • by Mike Van Pelt (32582) on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @09:44AM (#18514535)
      Absolutely. According to my copy of the CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, "There is probably more available energy in the Earth's crust from thorium than from uranium and all fossil fuels put together." But even short of that:
      1. The cost the uranium fuel is a relatively tiny part of the cost of nuclear power. Double, triple, quadruple the price, and it's not going to make a huge difference. There's a whole lot of energy in a little bit of uranium.

      2. The "shortage" is, more than anything else, an artifact of failure to reprocess wastes. Fuel rods have to be replaced, not because all the U235 has been fissioned, but because neutron-absorbing fission products have built up and started getting in the way. Only part of the fissile isotopes in the fuel is fissioned before the fuel rod has to be removed.

        Reprocess, separate out the fission products, and put the remaining U238, U235, plutonium, and other actinides into new fuel rods, and available fuel expands by several times. This is before you even start thinking about breeder reactors.

      3. Breeder reactors.

      4. Back in the 1970s, the Japanese demonstrated a process to extract uranium from sea water using an ion exchange process, at a cost of about $200/pound in 1970 dollars. That could be considered a very long term ceiling on the price of uranium.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by geobeck (924637)

      Coulda fooled me. The amount of uranium coming out of Saskatchewan is going to increase considerably this year. And before you scoff at some sparsely populated Canadian province, and wonder how much of the world's uranium it can possibly produce: try 50%.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by pyite69 (463042)
      Uranium is quite abundant - there is enough to power the earth for millions of years (though at some point it will require more advanced techniques). This is a temporary shortage due to over-reaction from Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.

      Temporary but quite painful for countries who are chasing down oil instead of locking up Uranium supplies (i.e. the USA).
  • by Anonymous Coward
    The cost of Uranium is not the major cost of nuclear power, its the containment, disposal and safety that costs. If it goes up 400% big deal, even 40000%, so what. Plus fast breader reactors of course, but load of other /. users will mention that.
  • Solution (Score:4, Funny)

    by FredDC (1048502) on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @09:21AM (#18514237)
    1/ Find a country with lots of uranium.
    2/ Invade in the name of freedom.
    3/ Profit!
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Rooked_One (591287)
      exactly... we can't have these countries with huge uranium deposits just letting them sit there and spawn huge radioactive cochroaches.... I for one welcome our large invertebrea overlords.
    • by GFree (853379)
      Stay out of Australia then. We have shitloads. Heck we're about to start selling it to the Chinese.

      Did I say that out-loud? Damn... /hears artillery in the distance

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by UbuntuDupe (970646) *
      Show of hands: who actually believes that it is impossible for people in Country A to buy a natural resource in Country B unless Country A has a military presence in B or has defeated it in a war?

      Alright, you with your hands up: explain Singapore, Japan, South Africa, China, and Switzerland.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by aadvancedGIR (959466)
        Recent history has a fine example of country B not being able to produce as much oil after the invasion by country A as it used to be when it was simply under international embargo and country A having spent so much for that invasion it is nearly buying oil at the price of diamond.
      • Re:Solution (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Mattsson (105422) on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @10:57AM (#18515539) Homepage Journal
        The problem is when Country A want to get resources in Country B while paying little or nothing for it and at the same time stopping Country C from getting any of the resources from Country B even if they're willing to pay more than Country A for those resources.
    • Really :D
    • Re:Solution (Score:5, Funny)

      by Gavin Rogers (301715) <grogers@vk6hgr.echidna.id.au> on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @10:21AM (#18515045) Homepage
      You stay away from Australia, now, you hear?
  • the core fo the earth was a huge liquid uranium sphere...

    hopefully the people behind these "findings" aren't related to the fossil fuel industry in any way... or to any alternative power... in other words.. FUD (?)
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Tom Womack (8005)
      Err, that's an interesting thing to be taught; the core of the Earth is a sphere of liquid iron. Uranium isn't a siderophile (that is, it doesn't dissolve in liquid iron), so there won't be much uranium in the core (this also means there won't be much uranium in asteroids, in case space enthusiasts want to mention mining those for the uranium).

      People have measured the uranium content of the inside of the Earth by looking for neutrinos of the right energy, which are produced during radioactive decay and fly
    • So are you proposing we build a craft out of Unobtanium to go get all that liquid uranium in... The Core?

      That movie scarred me for life.
    • by jackbird (721605)
      And all this time I was taught the core fo[sic] the earth was a huge liquid uranium sphere...

      Were you homeschooled? The core of the Earth is iron [worldalmanacforkids.com]. It's the reason we have a strong magnetic field.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jimstapleton (999106)
      I'm not sure where you went to school, or if you just slept through class, but it is *NOT* uranium, though it probably contains some. Even if it were, it's, as far as we are concerned, less accessible and mine-able than uranium would be on other planets. The core is nickel/iron mostly, and solid due to pressure. The layer above that is nickel-iron also (pretty sure, may have forgotten), but less pure, and liquid, as the temperature isn't as high.

      Also, the problem the article mentions is not that the uranium
      • %$@# typo, it's not the temperature, it's the pressure that's not as high. The temperature not being as high would increase the likelyhood of it solidifying.

        It's too early in the morning for this.
  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @09:21AM (#18514247)
    God help us. Could the world conceivably face a time in the future when we don't even have enough Uranium left to wipe out the human race? [shudders]
    • By the time Uranium runs out we will probably learn more about how to cause mass destruction with Fusion.

      Requiring Deuterium, which is pretty abundant, its a lot more scary.
      The hard part is getting the tritium needed for the reaction.
      • We already know how to cause mass destruction with Fusion. None of our current military nuclear weapons use fission anymore, they all use fusion.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Mprx (82435)
          All fusion bombs use a fission detonator.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Waffle Iron (339739)

          None of our current military nuclear weapons use fission anymore, they all use fusion.

          Wrong. Most "fusion" weapons in fact get the majority of their energy from fission.

          For fusion to work, you need a heavy casing to channel the X-rays that compress the fusion fuel. If you happen to make the casing out of uranium 238 instead of lead, you get a 2-3X boost in power because the fast neutrons from the fusion reaction can split unenriched uranium without needing a chain reaction, which yields significant extr

  • Breeder reactors (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Prune (557140)
    Then we should concentrate on reactors with higher breeding ratios, as the exhaustion of mineable uranium can be slowed down significantly, and that is worth it despite the negative political implications of the ease of production of weapons-grade material in these reactors.
    • by arivanov (12034) on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @09:38AM (#18514427) Homepage
      Well... If this becomes the policy, any country which is allowed to produce nuclear energy will automatically be capable of producing proper nuclear arms (not U235 firecrackers like the one North Koreans did recently). The regime to handle this politically is simply not in place at the moment.
      • by Flying pig (925874) on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @09:53AM (#18514657)
        As has been pointed out repeatedly in the literature, there is a promising route to build sodium cooled breeder reactors whose byproducts do not yield themselves to the production of plutonium, but do lend themselves to electrolytic refining rather than the PUREX route that has been used to support weapons manufacture. It has further been proposed that these reactors actually be used to consume existing high level waste, reducing disposal cost and easing the supply problems. (Unfortunately I can't point to any obvious links, as my information is in dead tree format, but I'm sure they are out there.) The problem seems to be that the advanced countries that have the capability of building such reactors don't have the political will, partly owing to "environmentalists" who seem actually just to be technically ignorant luddites. In fact most of these technologies have been around for years without commercialisation, but now it will take a long time to build reactors - of course it benefits the families of several politicians in the current US administration that oil prices stay high. The sudden push for pork barrel biofuel projects could be associated with the fact that the product utilises the current oil industry infrastructure rather than the boring old electricity supply industry infrastructure. And it does not commit to spending some serious money on scientific and engineering research which could, in the long term, reduce the value of shares in, say, Exxon, very considerably.

        If you want to keep your tinfoil hat on, you could argue that there are great similarities between the oil industry and the RIAA. Neither of them want new technology, regardless of what the public want or need.

  • Finally! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Rob T Firefly (844560) on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @09:23AM (#18514265) Homepage Journal
    And they said I was stupid to invest in all this uranium when it was cheap! Now, if I could just stop coughing up blood long enough to take some photos for eBay, I'll be set for life...
    • by Billosaur (927319) *

      Ummmm... you're not storing it all in the same place, are you? I mean... all lumped together or anything like that? [inching away]

  • Hopefully... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by hcdejong (561314) <hobbes@xmsnBLUEet.nl minus berry> on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @09:24AM (#18514275)
    this will lead to renewed interest in breeder reactors. Recycling nuclear waste is a good thing.
    • by qw0ntum (831414)
      Honest question:

      Breeder reactors reuse spent nuclear fuel. They only need small amounts of fuel to keep the reaction going. However, what about the waste? Compared to a conventional reactor, how much radioactive waste do they produce?

      • by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @10:09AM (#18514863) Homepage Journal
        Breeder reactors reuse spent nuclear fuel. They only need small amounts of fuel to keep the reaction going. However, what about the waste? Compared to a conventional reactor, how much radioactive waste do they produce?

        The Integral Fast Reactor [wikipedia.org] (IFR) would have used 99.5% of the fuel. The remaining 0.5% of the waste would have had the characteristic of decaying to ore-levels of radiation within 300 years. That's nearly a 100-fold decrease in the amount of nuclear waste we'd have to deal with, and orders of magnitude shorter time for protecting the waste. The waste is also attractive from a non-proliferation standpoint

        Unfortunately, the Clinton Administration defunded the IFR project almost immediately after taking office and killed it properly two years into the first term. After all, how can you count on donations from the NONUKES lobby if safe, responsible fission power is available?

        Bush hasn't restarted the project either, so there's plenty of blame to go around in Republicrat circles.

        We should finish the research and build at least one of these reactors at the Yucca Mountain site. There we can burn all of the incoming waste fuel, and light up Las Vegas or something with the energy. If it were only for waste disposal it would be a good idea, but once the research is done we also have a system for solving Global Warming. China is even interested but they're going with Pebble Bed Reactors since the IFR work wasn't finished. I'd be happy for them to finish the work, but perhaps they don't have the qualified staff. I abhor those who think Global Warming is man-made and dangerous and refuse to embrace technology like IFR. Even the founder of Greenpeace is a 'shill' for the nuclear industry - he recognizes you have to make choices, and none of them are perfect, but such is life. The choice matrix is simple if we want to get this solved this century: man-made global warming, nuclear, or agrarian society. Pick one.

        I understand Bill Richardson groks these issues. I wish he'd come out in full support of solving our energy problems instead of beating around the bush on it. I'd definitely vote for him if he did, and I'm not in the habit of voting Democrat. Oh, and it also solves our little geopolitical security problem, depowers the middle east despots, and bolsters our economy.
        • by WindBourne (631190) on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @10:20AM (#18515023) Journal
          The interesting thing about the IFR is that America has enough waste to power America for over a 100 years without adding any extra material. That figure assumes that we move to 100% IFR electricity and that it grows at its usual rate. Since france is nearly 80-90 % based on nukes and Japan has made major use of nukes, they also have loads of waste product. With IFRs, it is possible for us to buy time to develop and move to alternative energy.

          Funny thing is, this is a MUCH better solution that WIPP. As it is, the only real place for WIPP was western Texas since Nevada IS earthquake prone.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Paulrothrock (685079)

          Let me preface what I'm about to say with this: I'm not an anti-nuke freak. In fact, I think nuclear power plants are the only thing that could sustain a permanent colony from Mars on outward. Nuclear power is perfectly safe.

          However, more sunlight hits the planet in one second than we can use in an entire year. If we split this collection between solar panels and plants for biofuel, we could easily provide enough power for everyone, and without having to build giant centralized generation systems. Remember

        • Executive Summary (Score:3, Informative)

          by QuantumRiff (120817)
          For those with limited knowledge or attention spans, (or politicians)

          We have 2 choices for every X number of years each Nuclear power plant runs:
          (A) Store 10,000 pounds of Spent fuel for 25,000 years safely, taking into account rising sea levels, earthquakes, movement of the earths crust, etc.
          (B) Store 15 pounds of Spent fuel for 300 years safely, protect/monitor/gaurd the "recycled" parts, because they could be used to make weapons.

          Our government has chosen (A)
      • Re:Hopefully... (Score:5, Informative)

        by Dun Malg (230075) on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @10:32AM (#18515155) Homepage

        Honest question:

        Breeder reactors reuse spent nuclear fuel. They only need small amounts of fuel to keep the reaction going. However, what about the waste? Compared to a conventional reactor, how much radioactive waste do they produce?

        Since breeder reactors turn "spent" fuel into more usable fuel, they actually produce very little waste, and that waste has a very short half life. Breeder reactors are, in fact, both the answer to the fuel problem and the waste problem.
    • Re:Hopefully... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by TigerNut (718742) on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @09:41AM (#18514483) Homepage Journal
      Exactly. Naturally occurring uranium is at most 0.7% U-235, which is the fissile material used in conventional power reactors. The other 99% is discarded as "depleted" uranium and used as high density slugs in weapons. So if the world could only get over its Puritanical aversion to breeder technology, the available supply of fissile material would instantly increase by a factor of 99, not even counting the thorium that can be transmuted into U-233 (as already noted by another poster).
  • by maynard (3337) <j...maynard...gelinas@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @09:27AM (#18514313) Journal
    Uranium prices have spiked in recent years, as TFA shows. However, comparing prices today with a decade or so back ignores the huge amount of uranium that hit the market after the collapse of the Soviet Union [mit.edu]. A more honest comparison would go back several decades.

    Another point to consider is that while current steam based nuclear power plants do burn uranium down to an unusable 'waste product', that waste is actually quite useful with reprocessing. So, while it is true that were the world only to burn low-level enriched uranium the world would run out quickly, it is not true that with a more modern burn-reclamation cycle that fuel shortages would persist.

  • Recycle the weapons then
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Tom Womack (8005)
      That's already being done, but there aren't all that many weapons; ten thousand warheads at 20kg each is about two thousand tonnes of fissile material (quite a lot is plutonium, to burn which you need a special mixed-oxide-burning reactor), whilst the known reserve of uranium is estimated at 3.6 million tons.
  • I was really surprised to find that something so powerful and dangerous as 1 lb. of Uranium is selling in the $60-$80 USD range. Does anyone know how much energy a typical modern reactor squeezes out of a pound of uranium?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jayayeem (247877)
      Yeah, the prices seem awfully low to me too. I'd guess that the cost of fuel is not a large portion of the cost of operating a reactor facility.

      Gasoline is about 20 - 30% of the cost of running a car IIRC, so a 50% increase in cost is huge. If fuel costs are only 1% of the cost of running a reactor, a 900% increase increases production cost by less than 10 %, an I bet fuel costs are far less than 1% of the total.

      Since 9/11, US nuclear plants have probably spent as much money on guns for the security pe
    • Re:Cost per Joule? (Score:5, Informative)

      by QuantumPion (805098) on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @10:39AM (#18515271)

      I was really surprised to find that something so powerful and dangerous as 1 lb. of Uranium is selling in the $60-$80 USD range. Does anyone know how much energy a typical modern reactor squeezes out of a pound of uranium?


      Uranium is not dangerous, and one pound of uranium is not very much as far as power reactors are concerned. For reference, the density of uranium metal is 18 g/cm^3, so 1 lb of uranium metal would only be 25 cm^3 in size.

      A typical PWR generates around 3000 MWt, runs for ~500 full power days, and is loaded with around 70,000 kg of uranium metal. So that is [3000 MW*500 d*24 hr/d*3600 s/hr]/[70 000 kg] = 1,851,429 MJ/kg. For comparison, gasoline contains 47 MJ/kg. Keep in mind though that the uranium metal is not really consumed, it is only depleted until it builds up too much neutron-absorbing fission products, at which point it can be reprocessed and reused.

      If uranium metal is $80 per lb, then it costs a mere 2 cents for 1 GJ of thermal power. Gasoline costs about $3/gallon and one gallon weighs about 6.2 lbs=$0.48/lb. So gas is about $22.51 for 1 GJ, which is more then 1000 times more expensive then uranium.
  • Energy scarcity (Score:2, Insightful)

    by LarsWestergren (9033)
    We (humanity) have been living beyond our means for a while, but all forms of energy is going to get more expensive - i.e. all products are going to get more expensive. This is going to mean a decrease in standards of living, for just about everyone. We might as well get used to the idea.

    You can however lessen the impact of this on your life. If you have half a brain, look at ways to cut your energy costs NOW. If the energy bills for your house starts to skyrocket and you don't have the money to insulate th
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      This is going to mean a decrease in standards of living, for just about everyone. We might as well get used to the idea.
      Typical Luddite-speak. If anything, our consumption of energy will only increase in the future and it'll just push us towards finding new sources of renewable energy. They are available, they're just not cost effective at the current price points when there are cheaper non-renewable means available.
  • by physicsphairy (720718) on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @09:35AM (#18514391) Homepage
    There are plenty of things you can run reactors off of besides uranium. There's actually quite a bit of thorium in the earth's crust, for instance. And other fuels, such as plutonium, can actually be manufactured. Fission outputs plenty of power to justify manufacturing serviceable isotopes from more abundant elements, although, granted, it much better if you have reactor-ready material.

    But I think the point of fissile materials running out is set to be quite moot. Fusion reactor output has been increasing exponentially since its inception, and it should not be terribly long before it will be a viable alternative to fission power. Once we're set into fusion, it is basically impossible to run out of fuel. Fusion reactors run off of deuterium, which accounts for about 0.015% of all hydrogen. That is a crapload of deuterium! Consider that the oceans are 2/3 hydrogen (more or less) and heavy water is fairly easy to separate. (*actually, a tritium-deuterium reaction is more preferable for future reactors, but the tritium is refined from the deuterium--there is no natural abundance of tritium since it has a half life of ~17 years)

    As a worst case scenario, we can always mine other planetary bodies. But despite the article's hype, don't expect us to run out of reactor fuel anytime this century.

  • Uranium in Sweden (Score:3, Interesting)

    by the_arrow (171557) on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @09:37AM (#18514415) Homepage
    Saw a news-segment on tv a couple of days ago. The reporter stated that Sweden might have anything from below one percent of the worlds uranium, up to almost 20 percent.
    However, the villagers in a nearby village of one place where initial test-drills was supposed to start soon, was not happy. They were very worried both about loosing tourists and that it might have a bad effect on the reindeers.
    • Sweden might have anything from below one percent of the worlds uranium, up to almost 20 percent.

      I smell a "liberation" coming!
  • Poor Summary (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pavon (30274) on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @09:40AM (#18514463)
    From reading the summary it makes it sound like we are running out of natural supplies of uranium. This is not the case, and if we implement breeder or burner reactors, will not be the case for a very long time. The problem is that we don't have much uranium mining and processing capability in this country, since the outlook for future growth of nuclear power has been low the last couple decades for political reasons. So that would have to be ramped significantly as we build new plants, and MIT is worried that it is not happening at a fast enough rate, and may hamper further growth.
  • by starseeker (141897) on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @09:41AM (#18514481) Homepage
    I think there is an assumption made, almost unconsciously, that if our other power sources fail we could always "fall back" on nuclear if we wanted to take the risk. It's interesting to see that large scale nuclear power could have similar infrastructure problems to renewables - invest a lot or don't end up viable.

    This article focuses primarily on the economic questions of scale-up. I would be curious to know how much uranium is theoretically recoverable and how long it would last us. Perhaps there is so much of it that we could live off of it indefinitely (particularly with waste reprocessing) but I don't know the numbers.

    What this article DOES demonstrate, even better than renewables, is the need to sustain and increase basic research into ALL energy problems and technologies. Solar, wind, geothermal, nuclear, and various storage techniques like hydrogen will be needed; it's not a one solution fits all kind of equation. Nor will the solutions just "be there" when we need them, unless we pay attention and take steps to ensure that they are. Even nuclear cannot be taken for granted.

    Also - in the long term human beings will consume all available power either by technological/standard of living increases, population increases, or both. There isn't going to be a solution which will be "enough" - we will ALWAYS find something to do with it. Just the scale-up going on right now is putting a healthy demand on resources of all sorts, and that's just the short term. In hundreds or thousands of years there will be some very fundamental problems that need solving, and I think we need to get started working on them sooner rather than later. These things don't happen magically, they take hard and long work.

    Business is not to be expected to think long term, certainly not in the current environment. That should be the job of government research funding, and there needs to be a LOT more of it. Perhaps the difficulties of scaling up nuclear power will help to wake people up - it would be nice to do the research on new power technologies in something other than economic crisis mode.
  • So we'll just wind up depending on Iran and Russia to produce our uranium, and they'll control the energy market for the next century like they did with oil. All our old bombs are made of oil (plastic and explosives), so the transition to the new bombs in the hands of our historically worst enemies should be unsurprising.
  • http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/28/business/28uran i um.html [nytimes.com]

    There are a lot of unused uranium mines out there, is basically what its saying. That does not address the fundamental problem though, which is that easily fissile uranium 235 exists in a finite quantity, and unless the world is willing to begin building commercial breeder reactors, the supply will run out, around the same time as current fossil fuel reserves if use continues at its current rate.
  • They summary says that the world is running out of Uranium. But the article it sites is saying a larger investment in Uranium production has to be made now in order to avoid short-term cost increases. It doesn't say anything about the actual amount of mine-able uranium in the ground.
  • Every time someone advocates a move to nuclear fission, I have said the same thing: we are setting ourselves up for a peak-uranium crisis just like the peak-oil crisis we now face.

  • by Ancient_Hacker (751168) on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @10:27AM (#18515099)
    I'm amazed how many people have posted about the wonders of breeder reactors, reprocessing, or thorium as fuel, without really looking into these things.

    • These things havent been done, or have been tried and discarded, all for very good reasons.
    • Many tens of billions of $ have been spent on breeder reactors. Total fuel generated, near zero. In fact the generated plutonium has negative value-- there's a huge surplus of Plutonium in the world to day. I.E. Huge supply, no demand.
    • Reprocessing is expensive and polluting. Even at todays 10x uranium prices, nobody's going to try reprocessing, because it's still too expensive, especially if all the external costs are factored in.
    • Thorium in general can't be plugged into existing reactors, not without considerable modification of the reactor cores and control systems. Not likely to happen anytime soon.

    Folks, before you hop on a wishful bandwagon, how about making sure there is a wagon?

  • Uranium Rush (Score:3, Informative)

    by mdsolar (1045926) on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @10:49AM (#18515431) Homepage Journal
    Actually, the immediate supply problem is coming as a result of some floods and reduced stockpiles. The stockpiles became large because of the conversion of weapons to fuel. This reduced mining activity. You can read more here http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/28/business/28urani um.html [nytimes.com].

    On the other hand, there is a limited suppy of ore which makes reliance on nuclear power to avoid further gloabl warming a poor proposition. Converting current power production to all nuclear runs out the recoverable fuel before the new plants end their design lifetimes so nuclear would be much more expensive than anticipated at a lower level of use.
    --
    Get Real! Go solar: http://mdsolar.blogspot.com/2007/01/slashdot-users -selling-solar.html [blogspot.com]
  • by Soong (7225) on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @02:35PM (#18518547) Homepage Journal
    I mean, we have an excellent working fusion reactor that outputs all the energy we need and has a five billion year perfect record of safety and reliability.
  • No Wonder - (Score:4, Informative)

    by RoffleTheWaffle (916980) on Wednesday March 28, 2007 @08:55PM (#18523229) Journal
    It's no wonder we're running out, when most of the reactors in service around the world are grossly inefficient anyhow, and were practically designed to generate nuclear waste products they can't use for fuel. The typical light-water nuclear reactor today only exploits about 1% or less of the energy it can get out a given amount of nuclear fuel. (Assuming it has a once-through fuel cycle, which is the most popular.) Other technologies, however (such as the Integral Fast Reactor, which Hazel O'Leary and John Kerry so kindly helped to kill in 1994) which feature closed fuel cycles could theoretically safely use up to 95% of the energy stored in their fuel, and could in practice even consume the fuel-waste of other reactors. Other alternative fuel cycles feature materials such as Thorium as their fuel of choice. (Even Americium - the stuff in your smoke detector - has been considered as a fuel source.)

    This 'Uranium Crisis' isn't caused by the mere consumption of nuclear fuel, but rather the ridiculously wasteful manner by which we've chosen to consume it for over half a century now. Better technology is within our reach that could allow us to dramatically stretch our nuclear fuel supply, both at current and greatly heightened consumption levels. While this hardly means we should stop worrying (good ideas too often fall before bad people) it does offer a bit of hope for us until nuclear fusion power finally takes off some time toward the end of our lives, if it ever does.

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