This is a quick guide outlining how much uranium is left in the world – both on land and in oceans.
We also provide estimations of when uranium supplies may run out.
Summary – How Much Uranium Is Left & When Will We Run Out?
Uranium can be mined on land, but trace amounts of uranium can also be found in seawater. The concentration of uranium in the ocean is far lower than what is found in ores on land
On land, some estimates say we have about an 80 year viable supply of uranium left, whilst other estimates say we have a 230 year supply of uranium at today’s consumption rate for undiscovered uranium.
Increased mineral exploration could increase this number
But, if technology in the future can extract uranium in a cost effective and feasible way from seawater, then recoverable uranium resource estimates could increase significantly
It’s estimated that there is about 500 time the amount of uranium laying the world’s oceans compared to what is know to exist on land.
But, some estimates say it’s about 10 x as expensive to recover this uranium from the ocean as it is to mine uranium on land
Using conventional reactors, some estimates say uranium in the ocean could last the human race another 5700 years
Fuel Recycling Fast Breeder Reactors could extend the use of uranium by 300,000 years, or a factor of 60 (although complexity and cost could be a problem with these reactors)
There are other factors at play that could additionally increase the uranium resources available, or help us use uranium more efficiently
Utilizing ocean uranium supplies and fast breeder reactors though aren’t assured – they are only possibilities at this stage
Australia and Kazakhstan have most of the world’s Earth based uranium according to some estimates
We’ve discussed some other factors and considerations that might be at play with the future estimated supply of uranium in this guide about the future supply of oil (some factors are applicable to all mined resources and energy sources)
Uranium On Land vs The Ocean
Uranium can be found in both the rocks of the Earth’s crust, but also in the Ocean in seawater.
Uranium on land is mined.
Uranium in seawater is recovered with a specially designed yarn to extract natural trace amounts of uranium.
The concentration of uranium in seawater is much lower than the uranium ores found on land (hence, why large amount of seawater are needed to recover reasonable amounts of uranium).
This low concentration can make it far less economically feasible to extract this uranium from the sea.
How Much Uranium Is Left In The World On Land?
In 2017, it is estimated there was 6,142,600 tonnes of uranium worldwide.
… identified uranium resources total 5.5 million metric tons, and an additional 10.5 million metric tons remain undiscovered — a roughly 230-year supply at today’s consumption rate in total.
It’s worth noting though that estimation can increase with new discoveries of uranium.
The world’s known uranium resources increased by at least one-quarter in the last decade due to increased mineral exploration.
How Much Uranium Is There In Oceans?
[it is estimated] there is at least 4 billion tonnes of uranium in lying in wait in the ocean, which is around 500 times the amount known to exist in land-based ore.
How Many Years Of Uranium Reserves Do We Have Left, & When Will We Run Out?
For earth mined uranium:
At the current rate of uranium consumption with conventional reactors, the world supply of viable uranium, which is the most common nuclear fuel, will last for 80 years.
Scaling consumption up to 15 TW, the viable uranium supply will last for less than 5 years.
(Viable uranium is the uranium that exists in a high enough ore concentration so that extracting the ore is economically justified.)
For ocean recovered uranium:
Uranium is most often mined from the Earth’s crust, but it can also be extracted from seawater, which contains large quantities of uranium (3.3 ppb, or 4.6 trillion kg).
Theoretically, that amount would last for 5,700 years using conventional reactors to supply 15 TW of power.
In fast breeder reactors [a special type of nuclear reactor], which could extend the use of uranium by a factor of 60, the uranium could last for 300,000 years.
However, [some argue] that these reactors’ complexity and cost makes them uncompetitive.
It’s worth reading this guide about why we may never run out of certain mined resources.
Extending The Supply Of Uranium
There’s several ways this might be done such as:
Using more enrichment work could reduce the uranium needs of LWRs (light water reactors) by as much as 30 percent per metric ton of LEU.
And separating plutonium and uranium from spent LEU and using them to make fresh fuel could reduce requirements by another 30 percent.
Taking both steps would cut the uranium requirements of an LWR in half.
Two technologies could greatly extend the uranium supply itself … extracting uranium from seawater … and, fuel-recycling fast-breeder reactors, which generate more fuel than they consume
Countries With The Most Uranium
Australia (30%) and Kazakhstan (14%) have most of the world’s Earth based uranium.
Read the full list of countries at http://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/nuclear-fuel-cycle/uranium-resources/supply-of-uranium.aspx
An additional list can be found at https://www.fool.com/investing/2017/10/18/8-countries-with-the-largest-uranium-reserves.aspx
An article about the future of uranium supplies and nuclear energy in the US can be found at https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2017/05/04/we-have-plenty-of-uranium-in-north-america/#9dcba1667ce0
Secondary Sources Of Uranium
Secondary sources of uranium can include:
Recycled uranium and plutonium
Re-enrichment of depleted uranium
Underfeeding at enrichment plants
The Potential Problems & Variability With Uranium & Nuclear Energy – Scalability, & How Much Is Actually Viable To Recover & Use
Some of the big skeptics of nuclear energy say that the problem is that it can’t be scaled to a big enough level globally to meet potential demand.
Furthermore, it’s also said that the method for recovering uranium from seawater is not economically viable and it may never be.
With further technological development and discoveries, whether these things stay accurate or not – it’s clear there are some big variables when projecting the future of how we can use uranium and nuclear energy.
Other Variables With Using Uranium & Nuclear Energy In The Future
Read more about the different variables and difficulties at https://phys.org/news/2011-05-nuclear-power-world-energy.html
Do We Have Other Energy Options Other Than Nuclear Energy For The Future?
Yes – sustainable energy like sun, wind, and water energy are all other options to explore and development alongside or separate to nuclear energy.
There’s also fossil fuels.