Home » Columns »Sustainable Planet »Uncategorized » Currently Reading:

Uranium Estimates

January 18, 2012 by Tony Noerpel filed under Columns, Sustainable Planet, Uncategorized No Comments

“However it is conducted, mining will bring destruction as well as wealth.” Editorial “Beyond Mining”, Nature Geoscience, Vol. 4, October 2011 [1].

This is a remarkable statement. Simply put, all mining activity destroys wealth as well as it creates wealth. We can readily appreciate that the high grade deposits will likely yield more wealth than their exploitation destroys and that poor quality deposits will destroy more wealth than they create. We can also appreciate there are few high quality deposits and lots of poor quality deposits and this is called a resource pyramid. In terms of uranium deposits there exists a few ores with grades in excess of two percent natural uranium content in Canada, but nowhere else. There exists only a few hundred kilo tons of natural uranium at this grade in total but several hundred billion kilo tons in the earth’s crust at about 0.0001 percent. Humans always exploit the high quality resources first and only mine lower quality resources as the best resources become depleted. There is a fallacy among economists that higher prices simply make more resources available ad infinitum. I’ll call this the infinite resource hypothesis. It is not true, of course. At the point where more energy is required to mine the resource than the resource contains it is all over. This does not even have to include environmental destruction or negative health impacts which are difficult to measure but still quite real. The exploitation of Canadian tar sands, which economists and the media mistakenly refer to as “oil”, is a painful example. Mining tar is an elaborate, inefficient and expensive way to liquefy natural gas. The energy recovered minus the energy invested may be negative even without consideration of the human and environmental costs.

For uranium mining, Storm van Leeuwen shows from empirical data that ore grades below 0.01 percent cost more energy than they produce [2]. His plot is shown in figure 1. The x-axis is uranium ore grade and represents natural uranium content as a percentage by weight. The y-axis is the percent recoverable. The red circles are data from existing uranium mines. Note that the extrapolated yield curve falls to zero very fast as the grade approaches 0.01 percent. The blue curve follows data from soft rock deposits and the purple and green curves are yields for hard rock ores. It is intuitive that hard ores would be more difficult and take more energy to crush and mill than soft ores. Uranium ore grades below 0.01 percent which might be plentiful can never be mined profitably for society, according to Storm van Leeuwen, no matter how expensive uranium becomes. These deposits are below an energy cliff.

Storm van Leeuwen’s report is thorough, detailed and well referenced. The last characteristic means that while his work might be biased or not completely correct, it is verifiable. His results are indeed disputed by the World Nuclear Association an industry group [3], but this lobbying organization is certainly biased and as we’ve seen has unrealistically denied all limits to anything [4]. Storm van Leeuwen’s results are independently confirmed by the particle physicist Michael Dittmer [5 and 6].

I asked a friend of mine who is a PhD nuclear engineer and a nuclear power proponent to recommend a credible study which might conclude that uranium resources are not critically limited. He recommended the World Council of Energy 2010 Survey of Energy Resources report on uranium supply written by Hans-Holger Rogner [7]. Rogner is an economist and subscribes to the infinite resource hypothesis to some degree.

In my last article, I discussed Rogner’s fossil fuels estimate which is the most optimistic estimate I could find. His uranium article, similarly, is optimistic. The good news is that Rogner uses the same primary source as every other analyst, the NEA/IAEA red book [8] given in Table 1. Unfortunately, this report costs over one hundred dollars so I don’t have a copy, have not read it and have to be content with reading about it.

The typical 200 plus year Production/Reserves estimate cited by proponents (see for example [9]), assumes that 100 percent of undiscovered speculative resources exist and are 100 percent recoverable and also assumes no growth in nuclear power. Rogner, more reasonably, estimates that we have a 98 year supply. I estimate 33 years might represent a more reasonable expectation. It is useful to compare Rogner’s estimate to my own. Rogner assumes 100 percent of RAR and IR exist and are recoverable, and he uses production of 60 kilotons per year rather than demand even though he admits that uranium production has consistently fallen short of demand and the industry has been relying on existing stockpiles, which he further admits is unsustainable. Furthermore he assumes no growth in demand even though his own estimate of uranium expansion requirements of 2.5 to 3.5 times the current capacity over the next 20 years exceeds the EIA forecast [9] of approximately three percent per year. I submit that only RAR be included as this is all that is discovered (and it includes Coles Hill), 90 percent recovery (which might be optimistic given Figure 1), and three percent growth (which is the industry assumption). Furthermore, I use demand of 70 kilotons per year rather than production which soon will have to be met as stockpiles are finite. If we assume Rogner’s 3.5 times growth forecast is correct then uranium runs out in 23 years. In other words, the difference is not different data on uranium supply but bookkeeping.

If we wish to generate all of humanity’s exosomatic energy from nuclear power, RAR would last all of three years and even including all the undiscovered speculative resources, these would only last 11 years. Nuclear power cannot possibly be considered a viable long term source for the bulk of our energy needs. Why are we contemplating expanding the most expensive energy source, the most heavily subsidized, and far and away the most reckless and dangerous when it can easily be replaced with the cheapest and most reliable resource of all; that being conservation?

Both Dittmer and Storm van Leeuwen expect that increased exploration will not result in the discovery of high quality ore grades but simply expand the inventory of high cost deposits. Rogner agrees. “Some analysts expect that the next generation of uranium projects will have significantly higher costs than the mines that are currently in operation. Recent re-evaluations of uranium deposits resulted in a larger resource base, albeit at higher production costs.” He adds that the cost basis of addition of new deposits “seems to confirm that the exploration rush has primarily resulted in high-cost discoveries.” Rogner is not at all sanguine about uranium extraction from sea water, as is reasonable. He mentions thorium but no reactor today can burn thorium and no commercial thorium reactor design exists despite the fact that this technology has been touted since the 1950s. He is not even particularly optimistic about breeder reactors and indeed after decades of effort and investment there is no such thing as a commercial breeder reactor in service. They seem to catch fire. While researching this and prior articles on nuclear power, I recall reading that in the summer of 2010 there was only one operational commercial breeder reactor at the time in Monju, Japan. Here is Monju’s history [10].

  • Monju breeder reactor construction begins 1986
  • Reaches criticality 1994
  • Accidental major fire December 1995
  • Restarted May 2010
  • 2nd accident August 2010 shuts it down again
  • Reactor has generated electricity in aggregate for one hour during its entire lifetime.

A 2010 research report of the International Panel on Fissile Materials [11] concludes “Because of the high costs and reliability and safety issues …, however, no commercial breeder reactors have been deployed.” And “after six decades and the expenditure of the equivalent of tens of billions of dollars, the promise of breeder reactors remains largely unfulfilled and efforts to commercialize them have been steadily cut back in most countries.”

Ever honest, Rogner attributes the recent fall in uranium prices to slippage in nuclear power generation “owing to reactor closures, decommissioning and lengthy shutdowns for maintenance and repair (e.g. the Kashiwazaki Kariwa units in Japan, owing to an earthquake).” Rogner is writing in 2010 before the Fukushima disaster. The Kariwa shutdown is a completely unrelated and apparently routine loss of power generation. Reactors are shut down all the time. Rogner attributes the 2007 increase in the spot price of uranium to “several technical failures in major producing mines in Australia, Canada and Kazakhstan adversely affecting global production capabilities.” One wonders if these Canadian technical failures released any toxic and radioactive wastes into the surrounding communities. These are the same folks who will be running things at Coles Hill so it is not an idle question. For technologies which are sixty years old and presumably mature, both uranium mining and nuclear power generation are quite unstable in unpredictable and risky ways.

Yet Rogner concludes that “even without considering the 10.4 mtU of undiscovered and speculative uranium resources, unconventional uranium occurrences or reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel, uranium availability per se does not pose a constraint to a possible expansion of nuclear energy.” Unfortunately Rogner does not make this case. In fact, as we see he is not even at all confident in uranium extraction from sea water, breeder reactors or thorium reactors, the usually overhyped pro-nuclear technologies. He is putting lipstick on a pig.


[1] Editorial “Beyond Mining”, Nature Geoscience, Vol. 4, October 2011, http://www.nature.com/ngeo/journal/v4/n10/full/ngeo1291.html

[2] http://www.stormsmith.nl/report20071013/partA.pdf

[3] http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf11.html

[4] http://www.worldenergy.org/publications/3040.asp

[5] Michael Dittmar, “The End of Cheap Uranium”, Institute of Particle Physics, ETH, 8093 Zurich, Switzerland, June 17, 2011 http://arxiv.org/PS_cache/arxiv/pdf/1106/1106.3617v2.pdf

[6] Michael Dittmar, “The Future of Nuclear Energy: Facts and Fiction An update using 2009/2010 Data”, Institute of Particle Physics, ETH, 8093 Zurich, Switzerland, January 21, 2011 http://arxiv.org/PS_cache/arxiv/pdf/1101/1101.4189v1.pdf

[7] Rogner’s two chapters on uranium and nuclear energy are contained in http://www.worldenergy.org/publications/3040.asp

[8] Uranium 2009: Resources, Production and Demand (Red Book), a joint report of the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency and the International Atomic Energy Agency (NEA/IAEA, 2010) see also http://www.iaea.org/OurWork/ST/NE/NEFW/documents/RawMaterials/RTC-Ghana-2010/5.RedBook.pdf

[9] Steve Fetter, dean of the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy “How long will the world’s uranium supplies last?” http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=how-long-will-global-uranium-deposits-last

[10] Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monju_Nuclear_Power_Plant

[11] Cochran, Feiveson, Patterson, Pshakin, Ramana, Schneider, Suzuki, von Hippel, Fast Breeder Reactor Programs: History and Status, A research report of the International Panel on Fissile Materials, February 2010

Comment on this article

By commenting, you agree to abide by our Terms of Service.









2016 Energy Summit – George Washington University


On Friday evening, October 28, George Washington University, Virginia Campus in Ashburn will host the 10th annual Don Sandros Energy Summit in cooperation with local businesses and non-profits. Doors open at 6:00 p.m. for a reception with wine donated by …

Attributing Disaster


“Humans are likely to create a catastrophe, and possibly an associated disaster, that vastly exceeds our own ability to recover from it. In the face of all our efforts, it will persist.” – Richard Guthrie [1] “Here we show that …

Concerned Parent


By Michael Oberschenider Psy.D. Dr. Mike, We recently signed our four-year-old daughter up for gymnastics. It wasn’t cheap, but her friends from the neighborhood do it, and she has been begging us to go. It turned out to be a …

Invisible Illnesses

Lunde new

By Mary Rose Lunde It is general knowledge that when people think about illnesses, they don’t think about illnesses that aren’t physically apparent. Sure, people know about conditions such as multiple sclerosis and other diseases with visible symptoms, but many …

Robinson Park

robinson park

Looking back, now – I’m glad it wasn’t what most people would’ve considered a nice day; I don’t know about you, but I’ve had my share of hot and sunny to last me for at least a generation (especially since …

Are Your Estate and Financial Plans Shock-Proof?


Don’t wait until “what if?” becomes “what is.” Where will you live as you age? Think about your housing options now, so you have choices and won’t have to make a hasty decision should an unexpected health event force you …

In Defense of ‘Adulting’


By Samuel Moore-Sobel Most friends transitioning from college to the workforce long for the days of college, wishing to be back in class and participating in campus life. To be honest, I may be in the minority, but I have …

Student News

Congratulations, Class of 2016

6 Jul 2016


Woodgrove High School’s Class Of 2016 Graduation – By Amanda Clark On June 16, Woodgrove’s Class of 2016 was the 5th graduating class to walk the stage and accept their diploma. The ceremony was filled with anticipation as the chorus, …

(Be the first to comment)

Buckland Earns Degree In Medicine

6 Jul 2016


Molly Buckland, D.O., graduated from the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine with a degree of Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine on May 28. While at WVSOM, Dr. Buckland received the Dr. Roland P. Sharp President’s Award and the James R. …

(Be the first to comment)

Adams Promoted To Lieutenant

6 Jul 2016


Lt. James Adams, from Sterling and a Potomac Falls Halls Graduate, earned the promotion to the rank of Lieutenant. Adams is a Navy Week and Executive Outreach Planner for the Navy Office of Community Outreach in Millington, Tennessee. U.S. Navy …

(Be the first to comment)


October 2016
Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
September 26, 2016

Dreams of Trees and Other Living Things

September 27, 2016

Dreams of Trees and Other Living Things

September 28, 2016

Dreams of Trees and Other Living Things

September 29, 2016

Dreams of Trees and Other Living Things

September 30, 2016

Dreams of Trees and Other Living Things

October 1, 2016

Notaviva Vineyards - Bluegrass Jam - FREE event

October 2, 2016
October 3, 2016 October 4, 2016 October 5, 2016 October 6, 2016 October 7, 2016 October 8, 2016

Virginia Outdoors Foundation 50 years of Conservation Celebration

October 9, 2016
October 10, 2016 October 11, 2016 October 12, 2016

Barefoot Puppets: Dreamtime, Tales From Down Under

October 13, 2016 October 14, 2016 October 15, 2016

Loudoun Centre Theatre: The Scamps Of Scapin!

October 16, 2016

Harvest Celebration & Fall Farm Tour


October 17, 2016 October 18, 2016 October 19, 2016 October 20, 2016 October 21, 2016

Anthony Semiao Live at North Gate Vineyard


October 22, 2016 October 23, 2016

Come Paint with us at Breaux Vineyards

October 24, 2016 October 25, 2016 October 26, 2016 October 27, 2016 October 28, 2016

October Fourth Friday

October 29, 2016

2 Pound Sterling Live at North Gate VIneyard

October 30, 2016

Music With A Cause - Music of Colonial America

October 31, 2016 November 1, 2016 November 2, 2016 November 3, 2016 November 4, 2016 November 5, 2016

OysterFest at North Gate Vineyard

Notaviva Vineyards - Bluegrass Jam - FREE event

November 6, 2016
Current Print Issue:
Sign up for our email newsletter:

Recent Comments

Steady and NoBull


Veteran’s Day 10k Raises Funds for Veteran Causes

13 Oct 2016


On November 6, the Loudoun County Road Runners Club will again conduct the annual Loudoun 10K Trail Race in order to raise funds for veteran causes. Since it’s origin in 2011, the trail race has generated more than $90,000 with 100 percent of proceeds going directly to veteran’s charities, specifically Boulder Crest Retreat and Pets for Vets.

(Be the first to comment)

FBRM Clean-Up Day at Blue Ridge Regional Park

6 Oct 2016


Join Friends of the Blue Ridge Mountains for an Autumn clean-up to remove invasive vegetation from Blue Ridge Regional Park on Saturday, Oct. 15 from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Some tools and equipment will be provided, but please bring your clippers, pruning shears, or saws if you can. Directions: From Leesburg, drive west on Route 7 past the turnoff …

(Be the first to comment)

Painted Barrel Auction Saturday, October 8

6 Oct 2016


The Auction for The Painted Barrels around Purcellville will be held on Saturday, October 8 at 7:00 p.m at the Bush Tabernacle – 250 S. Nursery Ave. Purcellville. Thirty-Five local Loudoun County artists were given an oak wine barrel to create a Purcellville / Loudoun theme on it. Each barrel was sponsored by a local business and was displayed throughout …

(Be the first to comment)


Grief and Greed


By Matthew Parse What would drive a single individual to cause so much emotional stress and financial burden on hundreds, if not, thousands of families? What would drive the Town …


Opinion: Terrorism, Debt, and China: Oh My!


– By Nick Reid world can be a very dangerous place sometimes, especially for a nation state such as the United States. Although danger is always present, the number and …

Metro Money Mess Pushing West


– By Delegate Dave LaRock (R-33rd) A local paper recently quoted Loudoun Board Chair Phyllis Randall as saying that in her observation “some of the concerns raised by the people …

Dear Editor

New Proposed Uses for Western Loudoun

Loudoun County Seal Color

If you live in the middle or western part of Loudoun where you enjoy a parcel of open space near your property (which probably was put into an open space …

Bennett Knows How To Make Economy Work for All


In the election for the 10th District House seat, only one candidate has a more than three decades of success growing a local business. As the owner of a successful …

View From the Ridge

Broken Promises, Hidden by a Six-Foot Berm


By Andrea Gaines On August 9, 1825 at the age of 69, French military officer the Marquis de Lafayette was honored in Leesburg by former President James Monroe. The French-born …

Around Virginia

History’s Holy Places: Four Local Sites Worth Exploring This Fall


The Journey through Hallowed Ground is a 180-mile long, 75-mile wide trek from Gettysburg to Monticello, encompassing nine presidential homes and places, 18 national and state parks, and thousands of small and large historical sites. Dozens and dozens of these sites and related museums are short ride from just about …

(Be the first to comment)

Land Trust Receives Large Donation

land trust

On August 22, The Land Trust of Virginia received a $10,000 gift from the Sharon D. Virts Foundation, based in Herndon. The presentation of this grant was part of the Foundation’s official launch event, held at Selma Plantation in Leesburg. Notable speakers included Sharon D. Virts, FCiFederal Founder and Chair, …

(Be the first to comment)

Farmers Urged To Be On The Lookout For Marijuana


Farmers in Southwest Virginia are being urged to check their property for marijuana planted by trespassers. Within the past year, hundreds of marijuana plants have been discovered between rows of hay bales on farms in and around Pulaski County, according to the Claytor Lake Regional Drug Task Force. “Unfortunately this …

(Be the first to comment)


Hunter’s First Professional Race

7 Sep 2016


Drew Hunter and Loudoun Valley classmates at his first professional race, Sir Walter Miler in Raleigh, NC in early August , l to r:  Marcos Pierce, Matt Slook, Drew Hunter, Max McNerney. Hunter finished with a time of 3:57.15. Hunter turned professional and signed with Adidas.

(Be the first to comment)

Let’s Make Some Memories

3 Aug 2016


American Legion Baseball At Fireman’s Field, August 3 – 7 By Andrea Gaines American Legion Baseball is here at Fireman’s Field in a big way, featuring five consecutive blockbuster Mid-Atlantic Tournament games – August 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7. Our local Leesburg Post 34 Rangers had some nice wins …

(Be the first to comment)


  • +2016
  • +2015
  • +2014
  • +2013
  • +2012
  • +2011
  • +2010
  • +2009