Properties and Uses

Uranium is a very heavy metal which can be used as an abundant source of concentrated energy.

It occurs in most rocks in concentrations of 2 to 4 parts per million and is as common in the Earth’s crust as tin, tungsten and molybdenum. It occurs in seawater, and can be recovered from the oceans.

The high density of uranium means that it also finds uses in the keels of yachts and as counterweights for aircraft control surfaces, as well as for radiation shielding. Its melting point is 1132°C. The chemical symbol for uranium is U.

Source: World Nuclear Association website

Uranium is primarily used for the generation of nuclear power.

Demand Factors

Key demand drivers for uranium are the power and military sectors. Nuclear power capacity worldwide is increasing steadily but not dramatically, with about 30 reactors currently under construction in 12 countries.

Most reactors on order or planned are in the Asian region, though plans are firming for new units in Europe, USA and Russia. In addition, significant further capacity is being created through the upgrading of existing nuclear power plants while plant life extension programs are maintaining capacity particularly in the USA.

Copied from: Outlook for the Uranium Industry: Evaluating the economic impact of the Australian uranium industry to 2030 (April 2008)

The need to combat the effects of global warming will also drive an increase in world demand for nuclear power. Any strategy to reduce carbon emissions is likely to include a component of nuclear power generation. As the diagram below shows nuclear power has the lowest carbon emission of the current major sources of power.

Supply Factors

Mine production accounted for only 59% of demand in 2006. The remainder is sourced from stock depletion and dismantling of weapons-grade highly enriched uranium (HEU). This source is likely to diminish in the future.
The leading country producers of uranium in 2007 were Canada and Australia followed by Kazakhstan and Russia. Kazakhstan is currently increasing its production of uranium and aims to overtake Canada and Australia as the world’s leading producer next year.

Source: Red Book