Swakopmund — Uranium specialist and representative of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Dr Martin Fairclough, predicts that the world will be facing a shortage of uranium within the next three decades as demand will outweigh supply.
He says countries should vigorously explore and discover new uranium deposits to ensure its long-term availability. Fairclough was speaking at the opening of the Uranium International Conference currently underway in Swakopmund.
The conference, which brings together international professionals in the uranium industry, is being hosted by the Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (SAIMM), in cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Canadian Institute for Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum (CIM), Namibian Uranium Institute as well as the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST).
Fairclough said that about 7 million tons of uranium are left in the world. "It might sound huge - however one should consider how long it takes from discovery to the actual mining."
According to him it can take up to 20 years from discovery to extraction of uranium.
Fairclough said that world demand may exceed supply way more than it is actually expected. Another factor is the demand for uranium by India and China, which could push the overall demand for uranium.
"This supply of uranium is at risk despite the current huge availability due to low uranium prices following the Fukushima incident in 2013. However, we expect the market to stabilize although we cannot say when," he added.
Fairclough says that currently 15 countries hold 95 percent of the world's identified resources of which six countries account for 90 percent of world production.
According to Fairclough, the Minex Consulting report of 2010 indicates that 50 percent of the world's resources have never been produced.
"While there are significant stockpile inventories there is no guarantee they will be accessible. The uranium resource base is more than adequate to meet projected growth by 2035, hence new deposits should be identified and explored in time to meet the demand by 2035," he explained.
According to him production capability is not production itself. "The world's production has never exceeded 89 percent of reported production capability and since 2003 has varied between 70 and 84 percent. Countries such as India and China will increasingly demand more uranium, as nuclear power is expected to be an important part of the worldwide energy mix at least for the next 50 years and beyond. Provided that there is an adequate supply of uranium to sustain the nominal growth expected for nuclear power," Fairclough said.