Nuclear Energy: Making a Comeback?
In the 2010 State of the Union address, the president called for more clean-energy jobs, with expansion of nuclear power as an alternative energy source. He declared, “To create more of these clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives. And that means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country.”
Other countries, such as Great Britain, are already planning to build new nuclear plants. Although none have been built in the United States for many years, the 104 currently operating plants generate almost 20 percent of America’s electricity. Wind and solar energy together generate less than 5 percent.
An alloy of enriched uranium powers nuclear reactors. How large is the world’s supply of uranium? How long will it last?
Uranium, a metal, is relatively common and can be found in rocks and even seawater as well as in ore deposits in the earth. With 24 percent, Australia has the largest supply overall, but Kazakhstan recently declared that it had surpassed Australia’s output. Canada has less than 10 percent of the world’s supply, but has the highest concentration of top-quality ore. Worldwide, about 67,00 tons of uranium are used each year. At current demand, that supply is expected to last about 70 years. The World Nuclear Association (WNA) predicts that nuclear reactor capacity will increase by about 27 percent in the next decade and that the demand for uranium will grow by 33 percent in response.
There is some debate about when the demand for uranium will be greater than the supply that can be mined economically. Antinuclear activists point out that mineral resources are nonrenewable. Just as the world will eventually run out of oil and coal, it will also run out of uranium. Some analysts believe that this will happen sooner rather than later.
Environmentalists object to destructive mining techniques. In Australia, activists are concerned...