The above presentation is based on a paper commissioned by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
My paper, was subsequently published by the IAEA in December 2018 as a Chapter in a technical document titled “Quantitative and Spatial Evaluations of Undiscovered Uranium Resources”, IAEA TECDOC-1861, Vienna, Austria, Dec 2018.
A copy of the full report can be downloaded (for free) from the IAEA’s website at:
In summary my presentation/paper assesses the long-term terns in the World’s uranium industry from 1945 to 2016. It tries to answer the following key question – “is the industry finding enough new metal to meet its future needs?”
The analysis shows that:
- Over the last 72 years (1945 to 2016) governments and industry spent a total of $72 billion (in constant US 2017 Dollars) exploring for uranium. To date 11.14 Mt of uranium has been found in 1230 primary uranium deposits larger than >200 t U.
- The average unit discovery cost was $2.50/lb U3O8 (or $6.49/kg U) in constant 2017 US Dollars
- Discovery costs are forecast to be $3/lb going forward (within a range of $2-4/lb)
- There is a strong correlation between the rate of discovery and exploration expenditures and the uranium price (lagged by one year)
- At the current low uranium price the level of exploration activity is also very low and this has led to a decline in the discovery rate to around 10 new deposits per year containing a total of 65 kt U. While this is close to the present level of uranium production (of 62 kt U in 2016) it should be noted that not all discoveries turn into mines, and for those that do there is a long delay between discovery and development. Furthermore, not all of the uranium that is mined is recovered. As a result, the effective discovery rate is estimated to only be~ 45% of the headline figure. Half of this production will become available within 15-20 years, and the remaining half 30-35 years later.
- At the current level of exploration activity, the effective discovery rate of mineable metal is estimated to be around 29 kt U per annum. This is not enough to replace current mine production, let alone meet any future growth in demand.
- The IAEA’s Low / High Case forecast is for uranium demand of 67.0 / 104.7 kt U by 2035. If so, the industry will face a major shortage of new projects to develop.
- For the industry to be sustainable in the longer term it needs to either get smarter /more efficient in how it explores and develops projects, or it has to spend more on exploration. In practical terms, the effective rate of discovery & development needs to increase by a factor of 2.3 to 3.6x over the next two decades.
- Alternatively, the uranium price will need to increase from $23/lb U3O8 to $60-$97/lb U3O8 (in constant 2017 US Dollars) by 2035.
Given the very long lead time between discovery and development, increased exploration efforts need to start now; otherwise the industry faces a real risk of a supply disruption in the longer term. To avoid this, government and industry need to develop new strategies now.