Nuclear foes have long cited environmental damage as a key reason to oppose atomic power. But even pro-nukes folks may have trouble supporting nuclear power in the future, since a new report shows that high-grade uranium ore, the raw material that powers nuclear plants, is steadily declining worldwide. In fact, uranium supplies have been waning for about 50 years and the situation will only get worse as more power plants go online in the near future, requiring more fuel.
Most uranium is now mined in Australia, Niger, Canada, and some former Soviet bloc countries. But as their supplies dwindle, raw uranium deposits will likely be located deeper, of lower quality, and harder to extract. This would, the scientists involved say, make nuclear power more environmentally damaging by increasing the amount of mining, digging, and refining necessary to create enriched uranium.
"Over time, as ore grades decline and more energy is required for uranium production, this will lead to a higher carbon intensity for nuclear power, eventually becoming similar to gas-fired electricity," said Gavin Mudd, the Australian Monash University environmental engineer who conducted the study.
You can read more about nuclear's carbon footprint here. And for an overview of nuclear resurgence in the U.S., check out our current feature article, "The Nuclear Option."