Iran's Nuclear Ambitions Highlight Kazakhstan's Uranium Potential
Is this the next big thing investors are looking for?
One bonus of the global recession is that it wiped a lot of incompetent hedge fund managers and energy speculators from the canyons of Wall Street. As the Gordon Gecko sycophants regroup and look for the next Big Thing, maximizing profit while minimizing risk, the landscape looks very different than it did a year ago. In such a climate, it's uranium, not oil and natural gas, that would seem to have the brightest future for one simple, overriding capitalist principle -- supply and demand.
Whatever agreements are reached at December's global climate warming summit in Copenhagen, they can only boost uranium's appeal, as the carbon footprint of a nuclear power station consists primarily of the carbon cost of mining uranium fuel, not a nuclear power plant (NPP)'s operation. According to a University of Wisconsin study, NPPs only emit about 17 tons of carbon dioxide per megawatt, little more than wind and geothermal power, the lowest sources. In contrast, coal has the highest carbon emissions at about 1,000 tons per megawatt. Accordingly, expect to see many nuclear power cheerleaders emerge in Copenhagen.
Consider -- two years ago, London's World Nuclear Association in May reported that worldwide, 256 reactors were either in the planning stage or under construction. Even Ukraine, site of the infamous 1986 Chernobyl disaster, has announced plans to build 22 new nuclear power stations, while the United States, site of the 1979 Three Mile Island partial meltdown accident, has 23 reactors being proposed. These new reactors would be in addition to the 439 nuclear power reactors worldwide in 31 countries generating 372,000 megawatts reported by the International Atomic Energy Agency, an increase of 58 percent, all needing fuel.
According to the Wall Street Journal on November 29, "Iran announced a massive expansion of its nuclear program. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad unveiled in a cabinet meeting plans to build 10 more nuclear facilities for enriching uranium."
The nuclear issue even impacted last year's US presidential election, as Republican nominee John McCain committed his administration, if elected, to begin planning for the eventual construction of 45 new nuclear power plants in the United States by 2030, twice the number currently on the drawing boards.
Europe is also interested in expanding its nuclear power industry, which represents 45 percent of the world's currently operating nuclear facilities and 33 percent of new reactor construction. European nations currently operate 197 nuclear power plants generating 169,842 megawatts, and 12 European countries are planning or considering proposals for up to 67 additional reactors.
The story is the same in Asia. South Korea relies on nuclear energy to produce 45 percent of the country's electricity and Japan isn't far behind, relying on nuclear power for 30 percent of its energy needs.
Asia's economic powerhouses China and India are interested in nuclear energy as well. India is increasingly interested in nuclear electrical power generation despite the fact that nuclear currently accounts for a paltry three percent to four percent of the country's power needs; India has 19 planned and proposed nuclear power reactors.
Like India, China is a relative newcomer to nuclear power generation, deriving only 2.3 percent of its electricity from nuclear power, compared with the United States' nearly 20 percent. Of China's 11 current NPPs; the oldest, Qingshan-1, only came online in 1991. China's Commission of Science Technology and Industry for National Defense in its eleventh Five-Year Plan for the Nuclear Industry said China will prospect for and develop indigenous uranium deposits in order to expand the nation's ability to produce 40 gigawatts of nuclear power electrical generating capacity by 2020.
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