Nuclear power, fueled by uranium, is a key part of the world’s energy mix, accounting for approximately 10 percent of the world’s electricity requirements.
Nuclear power a carbon free, efficient, reliable and abundant source of base-load electricity.
A single uranium fuel pellet, the size of a pencil eraser, contains the same amount of energy as 17,000 cubic feet of natural gas, 1,780 pounds of coal or 149 gallons of oil. In addition, five kilograms of natural uranium contain the same amount of energy as 60 tons of hard coal. A single nuclear reactor prevents the emission of approximately 3.0 million tonnes of CO2 per year.
Nuclear power plants operate on a 24/7 basis, for periods of 18 to 24 months before shutting down briefly for refueling. No other power source operates at that level of reliability.
As important, electricity from nuclear power plants generates significantly lower emissions of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, compared with fossil fuel plants (approximately 60 – 70 gm of CO2/Kwh vs. 500 – 1,000 gm of CO2/Kwh).
There were 439 commercial nuclear reactors in operation in 31 countries around the world as of early 2016, with an aggregate installed generating capacity of approximately 383 GWe. Another 66 commercial nuclear power plants were currently under construction in 14 countries.
In 2015, nuclear power plants supplied approximately 10 percent of the world’s electricity requirements – and more than 50 percent of the world’s low carbon electricity.
France depends on nuclear power for more than 76 percent of its electricity needs, and countries ranging from Sweden to South Korea get more than 30 percent of their electricity from nuclear power plants. The US has the world’s largest installed nuclear capacity (99 nuclear power reactors) and generates approximately 20 percent of its electricity from nuclear power.
Nuclear energy is the only source of carbon-free, abundant baseload energy and plays a vital role in providing clean energy for sustainable economic development throughout the world.
Nuclear power plants use the heat produced by nuclear fission to generate steam that drives turbines, similar to fossil fuel plants. Unlike fossil fuel plants, nuclear power stations do not emit carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide or other air pollutants or greenhouse gases and only very small amounts are produced across the entire nuclear fuel cycle.
The current use of nuclear energy saves roughly 2.1 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions each year. According to the International Energy Agency, nuclear energy has prevented the emission of some 56 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide, the equivalent of two years’ global emissions at today’s rate.
In 2012, in the United States alone, nuclear energy facilities prevented 569 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions (equal to the amount of carbon dioxide emissions from 110 million cars) and the emission of 1 million tonnes of sulfur dioxide and 0.47 million tonnes of nitrogen oxide. (Source: Nuclear Energy Institute)
Almost four years’ worth of carbon dioxide emissions will be avoided by 2040 at current nuclear usage levels.
The International Energy Agency expects global electricity demand will increase by between 80 percent and 130 percent by 2050.
According to the International Panel on Climate Change, at least 80 percent of the world’s electricity must be low carbon by 2050 to keep global warming within two degrees Celsius.
Significantly reducing global carbon emissions, while meeting the growing global demand for electricity, will require increasing reliance on nuclear power as a major source of low carbon energy.
Uranium is extracted through two primary techniques: surface or underground mining. In Situ Recovery (ISR) Mining is a safe, proven method that accounts for about 30% of world uranium production, and is the primary mining technique used by Uranium One.
ISR mining entails low capital and operating costs – as a result, Uranium One’s cash operating costs are among the lowest of any major uranium producer in the world. Uranium mining by ISR provides the following advantages versus conventional mining methods:
ISR is friendly in comparison to conventional open-pit and underground mining due to:
Lower capital and operational costs due to:
- Less landscape disturbances
- No waste rock dumps
- No tailoring storage
- Aquifer self-restoration after ISR
- Economically viable uranium recovery from low grade ores
- Low power consumption
- Reduced labor costs per unit produced
- Lower restoration cost
In addition, ISR mining also has a much lower environmental impact than underground mining, involving very little surface disturbance and no tailings or waste rock generation. In Kazakhstan, natural conditions are ideal for the application of the ISR technique as the entire uranium province is a system of virtually zero-discharge depressions that are hydro-dynamically isolated from any natural water reservoirs. The area is extremely sparsely populated and underground water within the majority of deposit areas is subsaline and of no economic value. Impacts on the natural environment due to uranium production are accordingly minimal.
After ISR mining operations are completed, the quality of the remaining groundwater is restored to a baseline standard determined as part of a environmental impact assessment and approval before the start of the operation. Upon decommissioning, wells are sealed or capped, process facilities removed, any evaporation pond revegetated, and the land can then revert to its previous uses.
To learn more click on the numbers in our step-by-step infographic below.
Step 1: Injection
A solvent solution is injected into the mining area to absorb uranium. There is little surface disturbance and no tailings or waste rock.
Injection wells drive a solvent deep into uranium-bearing sandstone.2
The solution mixes with sand where it is oxidized and mobilizes uranium.
Step 2: Collection
The uranium-bearing solution is transported to the surface for processing. Monitor wells around each zone detect any solution escaping outside the mining area.
Uranium-bearing solution is pumped to production wells that carry it to the surface.4
Uranium-bearing solution is collected and pumped to a facility for processing.
Step 3: Extraction
The uranium-bearing solution is concentrated and the final yellowcake product is extracted. When mining is completed, wells are sealed and capped and groundwater is restored to the standard before activity.
Uranium-bearing solution is concentrated through a solvent extraction system and loaded into tanks for precipitation.6
Yellowcake product is collected from precipitation tanks and is purified, dried and packaged for customers.