According to a report by the Uranium Committee, part of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG), U.S. uranium can greatly support nuclear power generated in the country. Michael D. Campbell, chairman of the Committee, thinks the country has personnel and processing plants ready to expand into new areas and discoveries.
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Local uranium with potential
Over the last 40 years, the U.S. has relied on imported uranium from Russia, China, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Niger, Namibia, among other countries. However, the latest report of the AAPG’s Uranium Committee shows efforts are currently underway to produce more fuel locally, thus, providing utilities with more secure resources.
The report, conducted by Michael D. Campbell, the Committee’s chairman, is called Beyond Hydrocarbons? The Rest of the Story. There, Campbell explains the state of play for the USA’s uranium potential since the 2013 expiration of the Megatons-to-Megawatts program joint with Russia.
“The reason the American utilities have chosen overseas sources of this component in the past is that this could be obtained at a lower price than that produced by American mining companies. Why? Some countries produced by their governments underwriting with direct and indirect financial support. However, the federal government has also taken steps to increase mining and processing of rare earths in the U.S.,” Campbell said.
“The U.S. has abundant sources of uranium in so-called roll-front deposits capable of being recovered by in-situ mining methods, especially in Alaska and Virginia.”
Last week, the U.S. Congress voted to approve appropriations for the fiscal year 2021, including a $150 million funding to initiate the uranium reserve program. This plan aims to address challenges regarding the domestic production of the component.
Benefits with respect to renewables
Speaking to World Nuclear News, the chairman said President-elect Joe Biden “would need to go much further” to encourage rare earth elements (REE) mining in the U.S. “We cannot depend on unreliable sources of uranium and REE to maintain our power grid and critical minerals,” he said.
Regarding costs, the researcher noted uranium represents only about 5% of the operating cost of nuclear electricity generation, whereas those of natural gas power plants are “much higher”.
Campbell added: “The volume of fuel needed is the principal difference. One kilogram of uranium contains the energy equivalent of 17,000 cubic feet of natural gas. Nuclear power is climate-friendly (almost zero emissions) and business-friendly (creating thousands of high-paying jobs).”
In this regard, Campbell noted, “nuclear power competes with natural gas and renewables, [but] for pure climate-friendly grid-power, nuclear power has no equal.”
Besides, the operation and maintenance costs of renewables are “just recently becoming evident”, he said, noting that California is experiencing increased consumer electricity costs but also black-outs and power interruptions. The state’s renewable energy systems cannot produce sufficient power at critical times when needed.