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The Coming Uranium Crisis

CmdrTaco posted more than 7 years ago | from the someone-just-invent-mr-fusion dept.

Power 485

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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Yeah (5, Funny)

voice_of_all_reason (926702) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514195)

But they have free Super Saver Shipping, so it balances out.

Re:Yeah (1, Insightful)

gunny01 (1022579) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514281)

Just come down under and borrow ours. No one here uses it for fear of inciting the omgnuclearpowereviljohnhowardbushblairwarcriminals bringinnocentdavidhickshomebanthenetespslashdotoil isevileivlevil! crowd.

Re:Yeah (-1, Offtopic)

pipatron (966506) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514537)

I for one welcome our new omgnuclearpowereviljohnhowardbushblairwarcriminals bringinnocentdavidhickshomebanthenetespslashdotoil isevileivlevil overlords!

Al Gore is a fat hypocrite (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18514311)

n/t

Which is why India's looking at thorium... (5, Interesting)

meringuoid (568297) | more than 7 years ago | (#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.

Re:Which is why India's looking at thorium... (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#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.

Re:Which is why India's looking at thorium... (5, Informative)

QMO (836285) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514809)

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:Which is why India's looking at thorium... (5, Interesting)

Tom Womack (8005) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514335)

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:Which is why India's looking at thorium... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18514769)

CANDU reactors can use Thorium as fuel.

Re:Which is why India's looking at thorium... (2, Insightful)

timeOday (582209) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514931)

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.

Re:Which is why India's looking at thorium... (5, Insightful)

Mike Van Pelt (32582) | more than 7 years ago | (#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.

Barking up the wrong tree (1)

mnmn (145599) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514963)

The right tree would be the tree of fusion. I know the JET project has been a failure but once it does succeed in long term, safe and sustainable fusion we'll not run out of fuel anytime soon. There's lots of Duterium in the oceans out there.

Fuel is not the major cost (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18514227)

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.

Coming Uranium???? (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18514235)

I guess that's better than Shitting Polenium-210!!!!!

BaDumpDump!!!!

Solution (4, Funny)

FredDC (1048502) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514237)

1/ Find a country with lots of uranium.
2/ Invade in the name of freedom.
3/ Profit!

Re:Solution (1, Funny)

Rooked_One (591287) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514267)

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.

Re:Solution (1)

GFree (853379) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514291)

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:Solution (5, Funny)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514325)

Don't worry, we're only coming to bring you democracy.

...wait, you do? Already, huh?

Well, in that case, we're just coming for an extended vacation.

Re:Solution (0, Offtopic)

daeg (828071) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514421)

Democracy? But they allow the descendants of ex-criminals to vote! That isn't democracy!

Re:Solution (1)

aadvancedGIR (959466) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514871)

And you complained about a few tiny test in Polinesia...

(Sc0re:5, Liberal) (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18514341)

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Official Language: Pahshle gay, pahshle drunk, all retahded
State Bird: The Limp-Wristed Kennedy
State Fish: The Kopechne
State Motto: Let's All Get Gay-Married, and hurt The Baby Jesus' Feelings!
Nickname: Massachusetts,
New England's Crooked Penis,
Gaysrael
Governor: Republican
State Anthem: "YMCA"
Population: As Many Married Gays That Can Fit, probably less, but I don't want to think about it...
Largest City: Boston.
Gayest City: Provincetown.
Principal imports: Gays, Lesbionics
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Fun Fact # 1: Hates America
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Fun Fact # 4: The State House in Boston was moved to Trenton on October 12, 2006.

Mod Parent +5 FUNNY (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18514549)

Hilarious!

Re:Solution (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18514353)

1/ Find a country with lots of uranium.
2/ Invade in the name of freedom.
3/ Profit!

Dimwit.

Re:Solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18514409)

You're talking about Canada, currently one of the largest (if not the largest) exporters of uranium.

BONUS: they're also the largest exporter of oil and gas to the United States.

And hydroelectric power.

And Canada is right next door with a small military!

It's an obvious solution. "In the name of freedom" might be hard to justify, but that's not really stopped the U.S. in recent history.

Re:Solution (3, Funny)

dattaway (3088) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514683)

It's an obvious solution. "In the name of freedom" might be hard to justify, but that's not really stopped the U.S. in recent history.

We are working on that. The RIAA is at work this very minute taking away their freedoms. In about 5 years, Canadians will be begging for their freedom. That's when we move in with our military to protect them. They will be giving up their uranium for free!

Re:Solution (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18514437)

1. Bitch that people are dying in Dufar
2. Bitch that the US is doing nothing
3. Know of other country that kills
4. Bitch we did something.

FU.

Re:Solution (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18514487)

Much easier:

1. Find country with lots of uranium and dictator who employs people with electric drills
2. Produce electric drills and trade for uranium
3. Profit!

I believe this would be called 'doing it like the Frenchmen'

Re:Solution (3, Insightful)

UbuntuDupe (970646) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514547)

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:Solution (2, Insightful)

aadvancedGIR (959466) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514921)

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 (1)

monopole (44023) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514929)

Show of hands: who actually believes that it is impossible for George W Bush in Country USA to buy a natural resource in Country B unless Country USA has a military presence in B or has defeated it in a war?

Re:Solution (2, Informative)

tokul (682258) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514635)

1/ Find a country with lots of uranium.
Canada and Australia

Re:Solution (1)

Znork (31774) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514805)

Considering the US uses uranium for ammunition I suspect you might not end up with a net gain.

Yes, it's depleted, but it's prefectly servicable fuel in a breeder reactor. A potential which rather makes me wonder how smart it is to spread it around in enemy territory.

We need a +1 Sourcasm mod (2, Funny)

TeXMaster (593524) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514911)

Really :D

And all this time I was taught (1)

Rooked_One (591287) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514239)

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:And all this time I was taught (3, Informative)

Tom Womack (8005) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514423)

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 straight through the Earth, and get that the quantity of uranium is enough to produce about 40 terawatts by radioactive decay. There is a crank theory that the core of the Earth has a fission reactor in it, but there's really very limited evidence for that.

Re:And all this time I was taught (1)

'nother poster (700681) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514881)

A couple of points. There are a lot of different types of asteroids/meteors, not just the nickel/iron ones. The second is actually a question. Is that 40 terawatt (seconds, hours, months, years, centuries)?

Re:And all this time I was taught (1)

Guysmiley777 (880063) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514461)

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.

Re:And all this time I was taught (1)

jackbird (721605) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514467)

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:And all this time I was taught (2, Interesting)

jimstapleton (999106) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514505)

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 is running out, it's that we aren't refining enough.

Although I would like to see some of the missing numbers from the article:
- How much uranium is refined per day (or year)
- What percent of uranium ore, by weight, is needed to produce fuel grade uranium
- What is the estimate of the available raw uranium in the areas we can reach

Re:And all this time I was taught (1)

jimstapleton (999106) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514559)

%$@# 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.

Suck on THAT, terrorists! (2, Funny)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 7 years ago | (#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]

There are things scarier (1)

Freaky Spook (811861) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514521)

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.

Re:There are things scarier (1)

falcon5768 (629591) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514591)

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:There are things scarier (2, Informative)

Mprx (82435) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514789)

All fusion bombs use a fission detonator.

Re:There are things scarier (1)

VolciMaster (821873) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514675)

By the time Uranium runs out we will probably learn more about how to cause mass destruction with Fusion.

Um... we already have figured out fusion weapons: Hydrogen Bombs, anyone?

Re:Suck on THAT, terrorists! (1)

Bogtha (906264) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514643)

You've clearly got a far higher opinion of the human race than is warranted. What I expect will happen is that we'll use up the last 99% of the Uranium we have left blowing each other to bits with nukes, fighting over the other 1%, which if we ever get, will be used to build more nukes.

Breeder reactors (2, Insightful)

Prune (557140) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514249)

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.

Re:Breeder reactors (3, Insightful)

arivanov (12034) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514427)

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.

Untrue - only for PUREX (4, Interesting)

Flying pig (925874) | more than 7 years ago | (#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.

Re:Breeder reactors (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18514667)

Sure, and if one of them blow's up it makes an even bigger bang....

Finally! (4, Funny)

Rob T Firefly (844560) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514265)

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...

Re:Finally! (1)

Billosaur (927319) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514517)

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... (3, Insightful)

hcdejong (561314) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514275)

this will lead to renewed interest in breeder reactors. Recycling nuclear waste is a good thing.

Re:Hopefully... (1)

qw0ntum (831414) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514407)

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?

99.5% - Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) (5, Interesting)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514863)

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.

Re:Hopefully... (4, Interesting)

TigerNut (718742) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514483)

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).

I'm confused (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18514279)

...does this mean Iran does have a legitimate reason to have a nuclear program after all?

Good to Know (1)

Ikyaat (764422) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514295)

Thats good to know.

Here in Canada, Eh, they are pushing nuclear power as a means of cleaner and safer power as opposed to coal.

Good thing its not going to be like Gasoline where prices just keep going Up and Up and Up.

"Well we thought it was a good idea before we realized it cost a lot of money, but by then we had already spent a lot of money so we just had to go on spending more money, but you know we can just charge the average consumer more and make it all back so its still good."

Douches.

Re:Good to Know (1)

tb3 (313150) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514603)

Yeah, right. I once worked for the AECB (Atomic Energy Control Board), and I could tell you some real horror stories about the Canadian nuclear energy program, but they'd bust me under the Official Secrets Act.

Re:Good to Know (0)

BlackPignouf (1017012) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514719)

I don't like nuclear power either (it's unsafe, unsustainable and expensive), but in today's world, it's not like we have lot of choices...
So we should put renewable energies where we can (please, no more than a % wind power, but a *lot* of solar panels!), ignore gas/coal, reduce our consumption drastically, and stop refusing nuclear power for irrational reasons.

The truth is, any environmentalist should accept the fact that no energy is a blessing nor a curse, and removing nuclear power from our energy panel is as stupid as arguing about nuclear wastes in a 1000 years when everything that we do today (like planning 26 new coal powerplants in Germany to replace nuclear powerplants!) lead us into *big* troubles in no more than 50 years...

If we don't want any nuclear powerplant next to our home, we should begin by turning off those damn chillers & admit the fact that winter is cold (put a jumper!) and summer is hot (sweat a bit!).

Unfair price comparison (5, Informative)

maynard (3337) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514313)

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 (2, Insightful)

JackMeyhoff (1070484) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514327)

Recycle the weapons then

Re:Recycle the weapons then (2, Interesting)

Tom Womack (8005) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514449)

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.

Re:Recycle the weapons then (1)

JackMeyhoff (1070484) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514771)

America has much more than 10,000 warheads, please.

Re:Recycle the weapons then (1)

ichigo 2.0 (900288) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514905)

Weapons grade uranium is over 85% U235, while nuclear fuel only needs 2 to 5% depending on the reactor type, so there is 17 to 42 times more fuel to be gained from old warheads. But I agree, it's not much.

Re:Recycle the weapons then (1)

BlueTrin (683373) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514693)

I am no physicist but I doubt that would be enough to run nuclear plants ?
I am sure that it would provide more energy than recycling fuel bombs though.

Meanwhile, in Finland... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18514329)

In related news, in Finland there is growing political momentum to reform the mining laws to make it harder to make claims, because several foreign companies have started prospecting for uranium in Finland. The geology of Finland apparently is such that there is almost certainly lots of uranium somewhere down there. Now that there are mining claims and preliminary tests going on, all the NIMBYs have come out of the woodwork, fueled by the horrible idea of nuclear material being dug up around their backyards.

Cost per Joule? (1)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514343)

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:Cost per Joule? (2, Interesting)

jayayeem (247877) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514527)

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 personel as they have on fuel. (assertion based on no real numbers)

Energy scarcity (1, Insightful)

LarsWestergren (9033) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514345)

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 the attic, get energy windows and/or install a heatpump... you are going to be in deep shit, aren't you?

Re:Energy scarcity (2, Interesting)

Professor_UNIX (867045) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514611)

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.

Re:Energy scarcity (1)

LarsWestergren (9033) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514889)

Typical Luddite-speak.

Why, thank you.

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.

Oh, I'm all for renewable energy, and the use will increase to be sure. My point is that it will not be as abundant and cheap as we can get energy from fossil fuels, at least not for a very long time. Therefore, the price effectiveness of the renewable energy may in the short term come from facts that energy prices will sharply increase, which in turn will put of lot of people in a problematic situation.

Give me more! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18514647)

I don't want to use less! I want more, more, more. I want to have the power consumption of a small city. Perhaps energetic shields around my house.

Since the dawn of environmentalism, we've been told to use less, deal with less, expect less. It isn't true. We've never run out of anything important and we never will. When something becomes expensive, there is an opportunity for creating wealth by providing a good or service. Some see crisis, others see opportunity. I see the market working to give me what I want and need.

It's a shame that we have energy shortages in the United States of America. Brown outs are not caused by supply and demand, but by environmentalists blocking us every step of the way. We'd have a thriving nuclear boom going on with electric cars if environmentalists hadn't opposed nuclear power plants.

The answer is more, not less. Drill, mine, process, distribute.

Reduce, recycle, reuse is a bottomless pit of scarcity.

Thorium, Plutonium... FUSION (3, Informative)

physicsphairy (720718) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514391)

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.

Cyclical? (1)

peipas (809350) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514413)

There was also a price spike in the late 70s. It seems to me that thirty years later a price spike would lead values that are, you know, higher.

What were the peak values of the 70s spike if adjusted for inflation?

Uranium in Sweden (2, Interesting)

the_arrow (171557) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514415)

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.

Re:Uranium in Sweden (1)

thefirelane (586885) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514511)

Sweden might have anything from below one percent of the worlds uranium, up to almost 20 percent.

I smell a "liberation" coming!

Re:Uranium in Sweden (1)

freedom_india (780002) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514627)

OK, time to invade Sweden on the pretext of "freeing" the people from the tyranny of the swedish monarchy.
i see Dick cheney presenting a report to UNSC: "... it is with grave concern for the safety of the rest of the scandinavian countries and EU, i bring you these facts; Sweden is building weapons of mass destruction using its 20% of stockpile of uranium. Instead of joining hands with the rest of the community in fighting against terror, it is supporting terror by being a part of Axis of evil (replace Iraq with Sweden)."
Bush: "... i have ordered 33,000 troops to invade sweden, and bring freedom and justice to the opressed. congress and senate should pass my war bills, else they too are supporting terror. By continuing to host Pirate bay, they sure are supporting terrorists."
5 years later, heard somewhere in swedish wasteland: "Damn man ! Are u sure its only 0.02% uranium? and we wasted so much time and money to get this low a spread?" [forgetting another 7000 troops killed].

OK cheney, u have got your case, now go duck hunting with the unbending swedish defence minister.

Can't be as bad as oil for the West (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18514417)

Uranium reserves are something that exist for the most part in Western friendly nations, at least more so than oil. With Australia, Canada and the US being the in the countries with the top 5 most recoverable amounts of Uranium and South Africa and Kazakhstan being the other two nations.

At least this means it'll be far harder for our Western nations to be held ransom by various dictators and little Hitlers in the Middle East, yes Ahmadinejad I'm talking about you.

Re:Can't be as bad as oil for the West (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18514837)

You bastard!. --Ahmadinejad

Fuel Crisis (0, Offtopic)

Rik Sweeney (471717) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514431)

Scientists:

Instead of cutting up millions of hamsters every year in the name of research, do this instead:

Buy millions of hamster wheels and hook the little devils up to some turbines.

Not only will this solve the nuclear power crisis, but you can use the spare cash to buy loads of PS3s to run Holding@Home on, thus curing Cancer at the same time.

Re:Fuel Crisis (0, Offtopic)

o'reor (581921) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514581)

Gotta feed those hamsters too... with the price of corn rising sky-high these days, you're not even sure you'll make it.

Poor Summary (2, Insightful)

pavon (30274) | more than 7 years ago | (#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.

Re:Poor Summary (1)

stiggle (649614) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514947)

America has long had a policy of discouraging reprocessing of nuclear waste because it produces supplies of plutonium and other 'interesting' fissionable materials aswell as reclaiming a lot of reusable fuel.

The UK along with most of other nuclear powered countries reprocess their waste.

Need increased research funding (3, Insightful)

starseeker (141897) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514481)

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.

Re:Need increased research funding (1)

Notquitecajun (1073646) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514641)

I completely agree, but the block isn't just short-term thinking of busines - it's the political issue at hand. Lefties typically don't like nuclear power; from what I understand, Gore rarely - if ever - talks about it simply because they're afraid of it. Never mind that accidents have been rare and only one was semi-uncontained (Chernobyl) and that waste products can be re-used.

Imagine if someone who had credibility with the left on the environment - think Gore or Edwards - made a major push for nuclear. Of course, if they DID that, they wouldn't have credibility anymore.

On the business side, if we COULD build more nuclear power plants in the US with modern technology, someone would do it...SOMEONE would think long term on that measure and pull it off somewhere. This IS America, after all.

Meet the New Boss (1)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514519)

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.

timely article in new york times today... (1)

tpjunkie (911544) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514565)

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/28/business/28urani 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.

Sumamry doesn't agree with the article (1)

fredmosby (545378) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514577)

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.

Re:Sumamry doesn't agree with the article (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514773)

Yep. What is really happening is that the production of Uranium has almost stopped and the old nuclear weapons are almost used up. Time to start mining again. The US, Austraila, and Canada all have a good amount of it. And even then it is at what $80 a pound right now... How much energy can you get from a pound of Uranium?

You can buy it online... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18514585)

I was surprised to find out you could buy uranium and other radioactive goodies (including the infamous Polonium-210) online without any sort of license. They have it here [pocketrad.com] for example.

Read this pdf about 3 mile island. (-1, Flamebait)

kabocox (199019) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514589)

Read this pdf all about the 3 Mile Island bit and the actual history of the nuclear power. I used to actually think that nuclear power was really our hidden energy savior until reading this document. The creators are anti-nuke, but other than the prolong it isn't really presented that way. It appears to be very factual and informative. The biggest thing that I got out of that is the why do people hate nuclear power so much? Read this, and you'll find out. Short answer, the public was told that it was perfectly safe that nothing could go wrong and the locals really believed them. It wasn't that perfect and no proper emergency planning or drills took place. When 3 Mile Island took place no one any where knew what was happening. Remember the Hindenburg news reel footage? Well, 3MI was much, much worse. Instead of the plant just blowing up and people knowing something was wrong, no one knew. The media reporters apparently were making the situtation much, much worse as well. (Making the local public feel doom and gloom and the dead of everything.) This pdf is insteresting because it presents that the nuclear industry was "slowly dieing" by that time anyway. There was now new construction because of the cost. 3MI was just the straw and then all the anti-nuke folks really were able to prevent new nuclear plants. There is a part of me that thinks that we still need to have thorium nukes here, but reading this and you'll find out just how much hatred the nuclear industry/governmental oversite still has in certain corners. I found it insteresting because I had never actually read anything about 3 Mile Island and only heard it referenced. For others like me that just didn't know why the anti-nuke industry hates them so much, I encourage you to read it.

CRITICAL HOUR:THREE MILE ISLAND, THE NUCLEAR LEGACY,
AND NATIONAL SECURITY
by Albert J. Fritsch, Arthur H. Purcell, and Mary Byrd Davis
June 11, 2006
UPDATE By Mary Byrd Davis & Albert J. Fritsch
http://www.earthhealing.info/CH.pdf [earthhealing.info]
www.earthhealing.info/chupdate.html

Summary of a poorly spaced post. (3, Interesting)

ivan256 (17499) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514781)

Here's a summary of the parent post to save your eyes from the lack of whitespace:

I read this anti-nuclear power propaganda pamphlet [earthhealing.info] and totally fell for it.

I said this would happen (1)

Phreakiture (547094) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514605)

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.

Buy shares (1)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514649)

Obvious: Buy uranium/gold mine stock. It can only go up. Gold and uranium is usually mined together.

BitJch (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18514707)

achieve any of the at my freelance gains market share are allowed to play World-5panning lead developers and committees

Nuclear power is not 'carbon-free' (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18514847)

It's not carbon-free if mining & processing consumes carbon. I doubt there are many nuclear-powered trucks delivering fuel to the reactors.

Cost of raw ingredient is insignificant (1)

AlpineR (32307) | more than 7 years ago | (#18514879)

Does the price of raw uranium matter at all in the total cost of nuclear power? So the price of a pound of unprocessed uranium rose from $64 to $95. The price for processed reactor-grade uranium is $1,787. Methinks that price is all about processing and will barely be affected by the extra $30 for ore.

I'd wager that even the price of processed uranium is insignificant compared to the cost of operating a nuclear power plant and disposing of the waste. An increase of 50% in the price for ore will definitely not lead to an increase of 50% in the cost for power.

Higher ore prices will just lead to the mining of previously uneconomical deposits. I doubt that we're anywhere close to running out of uranium on Earth.

AlpineR

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