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July 08, 2011

What will happen with Uranium Supply

In 2010, I had won two uranium supply bets and one nuclear power generation bets that were made at the Oildrum against Michael Dittmar.

TheOildrum has an article about uranium supply and mentions the fact that I won my bets.

Michael Dittmar has a new uranium forecast after his last one in 2009 was wrong before 2009 had completed.



I am not sure why anyone would cite new work by Michael Dittmar for a uranium forecast. He forecast mined uranium to not exceed 45000 tons/year out to 2018. It has already been exceeded by 19% in 2010.

The latest paper from Dittmar is saying maximum uranium at different dates will be
Dittmar 2015 58 ± 4 ktons
Dittmar 2020 56 ± 5 ktons
Dittmar 2025 54 ± 5 ktons

I say the 62000 kton max in Dittmar latest forecast will be passed in 2013 or 2014. In 2012, it should be very close to being passed and might get passed if the situation at the Australian mines get fixed.

Dittmar looked at about 20-30 mines.

A recent Royal bank uranium study looks at over 70 uranium mines.

Pages 17-18 of the RBC report looks at the mines, including 15 of the Kazakhstan mines.

Langer Heinrich is an African mine which Dittmar is expecting to peak at 2000 tons. RBC indicates that mine will go to over 4000 tons and sustain it through 2020.

Big new mines were ignored by Dittmar that will be coming online in Africa
Azelik, Imouraren (both in Niger)
Husab
Mkuju River
Randfontein
Trekoppkje
Ezulwini

New Australian mines
Valhalla/Ska
Yeelirrie (BHPB)
Four Mile

Canada
Midwest (McClean zone 1) is covered by Dittmar with a smaller peak production
Midwest (2nd zone)
Aurora

There is a new phosphate process for uranium extraction that is three times cheaper than past methods.

PhosEnergy process can deliver low operating costs estimated at $20-25 per pound U3O8 and uranium recoveries estimated at 92% with improved environmental outcomes and reduced waste, the company claims. The PhosEnergy process is designed as a "bolt-on" that can be added to existing phosphate processing facilities. A fully integrated and process controlled demonstration plant that fits into two 40-foot (12-metre) shipping containers has been built in Australia and is now undergoing final commissioning before being shipped to the USA.

Worldwide, more than 100 million tonnes of phosphate rock is processed into phosphoric acid annually, with major producers in North America, northern Africa and Asia. According to UEQ this could represent potential uranium production of 20 million pounds U3O8 (7690 tU) per year.

The demonstration plant will go into operation at the US fertiliser producer's site in the second half of 2011 where it will operate for 5-6 months. Cameco's investment will underpin the planned operation of the demonstration plant and an associated pre-feasibility study, according to UEQ. The operations will provide cost and design data to enable the construction of a full-scale commercial facility.

The Phosenergy process could completely replace the megatons to megawatt uranium. Estimates of the amount of uranium in the world's phosphate rocks range from 9 to 22 million tonnes of uranium. In the past, recovery of uranium as a by-product from the processing of phosphate rocks has contributed some 20,000 tonnes to world uranium production, but the process became uneconomic in the 1990s and was discontinued. China could choose to just produce uranium from phosphate if there is not the need for the fertilizer. It would cost more without the offset of fertilizer revenue but it could scale up to 70 or more times. 100 million tonnes of phosphate rock is processed now. If phosphate was on the scale of coal is now just for the uranium in the phosphate that would be 7 billion tons per year worldwide. Scaled up phosphate could be used to get 580,000 tons of uranium. About 17- 38 years.

There is an estimated 60 billion tonnes of reserves of the mined, non-renewable mineral -- one of three essential nutrients to grow crops -- plus another 290 billion tonnes of raw global phosphate rock resources that could be used in the future, according to the International Fertilizer Development Center. The IFDC's projections dwarf estimates from the U.S. Geological Survey, which has pegged total world reserves of phosphate at 16 billion tonnes. At current production rates around 170 million tonnes, that level of reserves would be sapped in less than 100 years. The IFDC study estimates reserves in Morocco at 51 billion tonnes, based on 1998 data published by state-owned OCP. The USGS estimate for Moroccan reserves is 5.7 billion tonnes.

If the 350 billion tons of phosphate reserve is accurate then 29 million tons of uranium could be produced from phosphate.

On page 12 of a 2005 presentation, China nuclear planners talked about using 246,000 tons of uranium per year in 2050 but getting a conversion to breeders and offsite processing to close the fuel cycle (transition starting in 2030 and going for a few decades). Other studies from China indicate that they plan to fully tap the uranium in Phosphate after going through the cheap regular uranium.

I think I would believe a country that has followed through on past energy plans and will be spending trillions of dollars to make a plan happen.

While phosphate is being used on a large scale there is the conversion to breeders and reprocessing (70 times the efficiency for using uranium). There will also be time to perfect uranium from seawater (4 billion tons)

Research has been underway in Japan on technologies to recover traces of uranium contained in seawater. One of the technologies uses a method involving submerging a material that adsorbs uranium in the sea, and chemically separating and refining the collected uranium after the adsorbent material is pulled out of seawater. The cost of recovering uranium through this method is estimated to be about three-fold higher than the current market price of uranium, research and development efforts for cost reduction are also in the works. Costs could be reduced by 40% or more. This would make it about 1.8 times higher than current uranium prices. Plus Japan could get some Vanadium at the same time. Rare earth that they need. Contribution of vanadium would lower uranium costs by $4 per pound.

Ocean current flow in several areas is strong enough to make uranium from seawater extraction energy efficient.

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