Thursday, July 10, 2008

Russia set to Dominate World Uranium Supply.

It is now generally accepted that nuclear power will become an increasingly vital part of the world's energy provision, specifically that of electricity. Proposed expansion of uranium production in Russia means that it is likely that 45% of the uranium nuclear fuel used in the world will by 2030 come from Russia and its environs - a very strong card to throw on the table in the unfolding game of "new world order", which is underpinned utterly by resources, especially those of energy.

The terms "energy" and "electricity" are often but incorrectly used synonymously. Only a proportion of total energy is used in the form of electricity, in the U.K. about one fifth; roughly 40% of the rest comes from oil used almost entirely to fuel transportation, and the remainder is thermal energy to heat buildings and run industry, more of which could in principle be provided via electricity if generating capacity can be expanded. The U.K. seems set to maintain gas-fired electricity output, even though there are issues over just how much gas we will be able to import in competition with other nations in Europe, and switching-over to more nuclear power from gas-technology will not be easy.

Last year, Russia overtook Niger to become the fourth largest producer of uranium, following Canada, Australia and Kazakhstan, with an output of 3,527 tons. There are however plans to recover much more uranium from deposits in Eastern Siberia and other regions and through deals with other uranium producing countries: Canada and Kazakhstan already have cooperative arrangements in place and there are explorations ongoing in Mongolia which it is thought may have the greatest uranium resources of any nation.

In the far-eastern Russian Chita Region lies the city of Krasnokamensk, home to the Priargun "mining and dressing" plant, which produces a massive 93% of Russia's uranium. The proven reserve there is 150,000 tons and another 7% is produced by underground leaching (a much cheaper process than conventional mining) in Dalur (Kurgan Region) and the Republic of Buryatia (Khiagda). In total these deposits are sufficient to meet home-demand only and so, if Russia is to become a major exporter and controller of the world uranium market, it has to yield more from elsewhere.

Additionally, Russia must provide uranium for soviet-built nuclear plants (e..g Metsamor in the Republic of Armenia and Kozloduy in Bulgaria) abroad, along with meeting contracts for uranium-enrichment and the overall result is a deficit of around 6000 tons a year of uranium. This shortfall from "new" resources is made-up by reprocessing uranium from nuclear weapons and "depleted uranium tails" which are deposits of ore that are used twice. However, these "secondary reserves" will be used-up in 10 - 15 years and so more actual "new" production is unequivocal.

In this regard, the Rosatom uranium monopoly, Atomredmetzoloto, intends to up its production to 3,880 tons (up 10% on 2007) and to increase this to 20,000 tons by 2024. As noted in the context of oil, it is the rate of supply (the "tap") that matters more than the size of the reserve (the "tank"). Russia has a very large tank of uranium, holding around 564,000 tons if the deposits at Elkon of 344,000 tons is included. Elkon is located on the banks of the River Aldan in Yakutia in the north of the Republic of Sakha, and the uranium ore is buried deep underground in a bank of permafrost and so digging it out will not be all that easy.

I wonder too, whether there will be disturbances of methane hydrate, releasing methane into the atmosphere in the process. The Argentines are measuring the gas-output from the arses of cattle at the moment which they fear might be causing 30% of Argentina's methane global-warming gas emissions, but what in comparison could mining Siberian permafrost turn-up?

All in all, experts have reckoned that Russia could produce 45% of the world's uranium by 2030, which, if nuclear power becomes as important as some think in the fight to wean the world off fossil-fuel, will place them centre-stage in world affairs.

Related Reading.
"Russia's uranium breakthrough." By (RIA Novosti commentator) Tatyana Sinitsyna


Anonymous said...

I am more and more convinced that sustainable practices (i.e. rewriting the building, transportation and other "codes" of modern life) are both desirable and inevitable.

One recent example (worth repeating) of a modern, industrial economy that can choose to "go" completely renewable: (In English.)

Another example (many important details not mentioned below):
Weighing up the outcomes of intensive forestry

Professor Erkki Lahde added up the costs for the Finnish society and forest owners caused by the current practices of forest management over the last fifty years and concluded that the figure amounted to milliards. But the saddest thing of all is the fact that, at the same time, these same expensive practices have resulted in heavy financial losses and great ecological damage. Perhaps the most damaging thing of all, however, is the very logic of this general approach to forest management in Finland: growing trees in even sized stands of pines or spruces, then removing the whole stand by clear cutting and, finally, ploughing and regenerating the stand either through sowing or planting. Contrary to popular belief, this model promoted as "intensive forestry" is, in fact, neither profitable nor efficient - even if the ecological
damage and the problems related to wood quality were ignored. The scientific findings by professor Lahde and his team show that by drawing on the natural dynamics of a forest by growing mixed stands with uneven sized trees, the yield would be substantially higher even in terms of annual volume growth. Another big benefit of this so-called continuous
cover forestry is that the great cost of regenerating the stand and taking care of the saplings is avoided.

Sustainably yours

Professor Chris Rhodes said...

Hi George,

I think I wrote about this combined power plant before. It's an interesting idea and I just wish we'd started building it/them 30 years ago!

Biomass production is a contentious issue as to how much can be produced without damaging the ecology. The man in Finland makes some good points about this issue.

I hope for a sustainable future too, but it will be one that uses less energy.



Anonymous said...

Quotation from the kombi... site.
The Combined Power Plant optimally combines the advantages of various
renewable energy sources. Wind turbines and solar modules help generate
electricity in accordance with how much wind and sun is available. Biogas
and hydropower are used to make up the difference: they are converted
into electricity as needed in order to balance out short-term fluctuations, or
are temporarily stored. Technically, there is nothing preventing us from 100
per cent provision with renewables.
End of quotation from

Comment 1) Efficiencies.
How often do wind turbines actually produce power? 10% of the time except on coastal sites?
I have heard that an extremely advanced and efficient focussing solar module has an efficiency of 15%.
Biogas I don’t know much about, but I guess it utilises some sort of reduction process which breaks down the bio material into inflammable gas. What would be the ratio of reduction energy (energy in) to usable gas energy (energy out)?
How do we temporarily store hydropower? Isn’t it stored power in the first case? Are we going to fit, say, sliding shutters on the tops of dams to raise the water level?
Comment (2) Locations.
The combined power plant is in Germany.
The windmills will have be on the East coast, and probably operate for about 30% of the time.
The solar modules might best be away from population areas for maximisation of solar energy input.
Biogas can be produced anywhere and tanked or piped in,
Hydro power plants are probably already built.
It would seem that when considering siting, the only part of this jigsaw over which we have real control is the biogas, the other three are in more-or-less fixed positions, which happen to be not close to each other.
So what about our old friend distribution losses?
Comment 3) Worst case situations.
When the wind drops, and it is heavily cloudy, the power supply is 100% dependent on the bio and hydro systems. Can they handle it, is it possible to even build new hydro plants? So that leaves bio. Effectively the power system will become a gas fired power system.
Conclusion. Perhaps the Combined Power Plant idea needs some more work on it.
Brgds, Peter Melia

Professor Chris Rhodes said...

Hi Peter,

yes, I think we are still in the development phase of this and there is the inevitable issue of scale-up and further engineering if the strategy is to become a more widespread means to sustainable power-production.

The problem is the relatively limited time we have left - well, there is none "left" per se - to implement all or any of these wonderful ideas.

There is plenty of energy around the Earth - from sunlight directly and its consequences, wind, waves and tides, but concentrating enough of it to maintain civilization is an as yet unsolved problem.

...and none of these solutions impact immediately on that most immediate problem - transportation in the absence of plentiful cheap liquid fuel.