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Windmills to save us from the imminent Uranium Shortage

It's all wind and whining | Magnus Linklater - Times Online

“Time is running out!” “Ten to 15 years left to save the world!” “Disaster threatens!” “Ecosystems on the brink of extinction!”...3C rise in the world's temperature, leading to a global drop in cereal crops, putting 400 million more people at risk of hunger, and up to three billion at risk of flooding, without access to fresh water supplies. The outcome would be the destruction of half the world's nature reserves and a fifth of its coastal wetlands. Goodbye Norfolk, so long the Western Isles, pity about the Thames Estuary...

As The Times has been reporting this week, a block has been imposed on a number of wind farm developments, because the MoD is worried that they may interfere with its radar systems.

What sort of crazy logic is that? Which is the most dangerous threat to this country - the launch of a Cold War-style attack on Britain by the Russians, with the MiGs gaining a few seconds advantage from turbine clutter on our radar screens, or the imminent disappearance of the polar icecap and the engulfing of the East Coast by the North Sea? The world's scientists say it is the latter. The MoD's boffins say it is the former. And on their say-so we await, in suspended animation, as the icebergs melt....

Worst offenders are organisations such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, English Nature, Scottish Natural Heritage or the many environmental lobby groups that routinely object to applications which, they claim, pose a threat to a passing eagle or the lesser-spotted whimbrel...

I do not claim that wind farms on their own are the answer to global warming. But they are certainly part of it. However inefficient and unreliable, they are currently the only show in town, the only known supplier of renewable energy on any scale that is available here and now, rather than in 15 or 20 years' time. Nuclear energy? Of course, but on its own it can never fulfil the world's needs. Read David Fleming's pamphlet The Lean Guide to Nuclear Energy and worry about what happens when the world's endowment of uranium ore begins to run low some time after 2010, leading to an ever greater reliance on fossil fuels.....

Now Magnus is normally a sound sort of bloke, but it is as though he didn't put enough water with it last night when he scribed this panegyric to the windmills. But in amongst the guff was the surprising claim that we are running out of Uranium ore in the next ten years; I wonder if readers with their ears close to the mining industry could correct me on this but my understanding was that there was lots of it around:

Uranium - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

It is estimated that 4.7 million tonnes of uranium ore reserves are economically viable, while 35 million tonnes are classed as mineral resources (reasonable prospects for eventual economic extraction). An additional 4.6 billion tonnes of uranium are estimated to be in sea water (Japanese scientists in the 1980s showed that extraction of uranium from sea water using ion exchangers was feasible)

UPDATE:World Electricity - consumption - 16.33 trillion kWh (16,330,000,000,000)

A nuclear 1000 megawatt power reactor, (after its initial fuel loading of uranium), has an annual requirement of around 27 tonnes of fuel.

Assuming the plant works flat out for 250 days a year

(16,330,000,000,000/ (1000*1000*24*250))*27= 73 485

75,000 tonnes of Uranium a year needed to produce all the world's electricity.

4.7 million tonnes at least easily available - I think that works out at over 45,000 years worth.

( Please point out to me if I have got a decimal point in the wrong place.)


The odd eagle, try thousands, the bloddy things are bird chompers. As to Uranium the Indians are investing in Thorium reactors which have much shorter half life and there is much more of it around.
Will update on the actual figures from home.

We'll also have the first stage fusion reactors going in the next ten years or so. We were developing them in Oxford but transferred to France and involved Japanese money and technology.

Oh goodie! I'm sitting here all hot bothered and bored and along comes Mr E with the opportunity to blast an MSM journo for being a complete tit. Yeeeeehagh! Excuse me while I load both barrels.

Right. Let's start by saying Mr E is right in suspecting that the world is unlikely to run out of uranium in ten years. While extraction of uranium from sea water is unlikely to be viable for a good few years, that 4.7 million tons represents a very specific subset of all the uranium in the world.

It all hinges about the definitions of words. To a minerals industry type like me, terms like "reserves" and "resources" have very specific meanings. As do "economic", "measured", "indicated", "inferred", "proved", and "probable". Indeed misuse of these words in this context can result in the fraud squad turning up on one's doorstep.

Anyway, first some checking.

Doing a quick Google I discovered this report (http://www.uic.com.au/nip75.htm) and I see that 4.7 million tons does seem to be the accepted number for measured economic resources (or as I would call them, proved reserves, because I'm a miner not a geologist). But the number needs to be qualified. The biggest qualifier is that the report writers derived that number using a uranium price of $40 per kg ($18 per lb). Essentially a measured economic resource defined at $40 limits the total tonnage to SOME known resources which can be exploited and would be profitable above a price of $40 per kg.

The uranium price two days ago was $75 per lb, or $165 per kg. Now a second's logical thought will lead one to realise that if the price for a commodity is higher and if nothing else has changed, then more resources, previously categorised as unprofitable, will now be profitable and hence fall into the measured economic resource category. I'll bet the future functionaility of my todger that if the authors of the report I mentioned reran their exercise with the new price, that 4.7 million tons would increase dramatically.

The other issue is with the word "measured" as it is used here. According to the textbook definition, a measured resource is one about which a competent person, experienced in the field, can make accurate predictions of the orebody's extent, tonnage and grade. It's a pretty tight definition. Getting to the point where one can declare a resource "measured" requires a shedload of exploration and cost. There are an awful lot of resources that have yet to be explored sufficiently well to reach this exacting standard. They are referred to as "indicated and inferred resources. That's where the 35 million tons comes from.

Hope this helps clarify matters. If not, I'm going to put together a post over the next couple of days that should explain everything.

"So long the Western Isles"


How much does he think sea level is going to rise?

The Cuillins anybody? Ben Mhor Mull? Heaval?

Over 2000 feet the lot of them.

Come on Magnus, even an Icelander can't be that stupid.

( Please point out to me if I have got a decimal point in the wrong place.)

I think you might have done, the cui report I mentioned said annual global consumption was 66,500 tons. Then again are we talking yellowcake (U3O8) or fuel rods? It all comes down to definitions and what reports actually mean.

Sorry, not "cui", but "uic". Time for bed methinks.

RM's absolutely right; talking about reserves without regard to the price is economic balderdash. We are not in imminent danger of running out of fuel.

However, the future is possibly even rosier than that. All of the above calculations are assuming fuel in → waste out. They are ignoring a crucial element in the nuclear fuel cycle that has the potential to give us centuries of fission power: breeder reactors. There are technical and proliferation concerns, but Chicken Linklater is decidedly wrong here: the sky is not falling.

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