Energy security is described by the International Energy Agency (IEA) as ‘the uninterrupted physical availability at a price which is affordable, while respecting environment concerns’. It is about ensuring the supply of the resources needed to generate energy.
Energy security is often cited as one of the major benefits of nuclear power (we’ll ignore for now its complete lack of respect for environment concerns). The theory goes that those countries with nuclear reactors make themselves less reliant on gas and oil imports from unstable regions such as the Middle East.
What the theory ignores is that these countries are exchanging one reliance for another: from fossil fuels to uranium. Like oil and gas, uranium is a finite resource and someone controls the supply of it. Any nuclear nation that does not have supplies of its own uranium is therefore reliant on other countries. That’s not what we’d call energy security.
The EURATOM Supply Agency, whose ‘mission is to ensure a regular and equitable supply of nuclear fuels for [European] Community users’, has just released its annual report for 2009. It gives some interesting information on the flow of uranium into and from the European Union.
From the pie chart on page 25 of the report, we can see that in 2009 just 2.73 per cent of the uranium delivered to EU utilities came from within the EU itself. Almost half came from Russia, Niger, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, South Africa and Namibia. Is that energy insecurity, relying on uranium supplies from unstable governments with questionable human rights records? The nuclear ‘renaissance’ is supposed to make Europe less reliant on things like Russian gas supplies. It does that by making us reliant on Russian uranium supplies.
As we pointed out yesterday, the IEA predicts that – if its hugely optimistic projection of 1,200 new reactors being built comes to pass - the nuclear industry will use 5.5 million tonnes of uranium between now and 2050. That is, according to the IEA, ‘roughly equivalent to current known conventional uranium resources’. Today we read about India's ‘growing appetite for uranium’ and how its ‘annual uranium requirement is expected to jump by 1,500-2,000 tonnes’.
Where is India expecting to get all that extra uranium? Russia. That’s uranium that won’t be coming to Europe. The extra demand will push up uranium prices and make nuclear power even more expensive that it already is. It’s a situation that won’t be helped by an ‘insatiable’ China which is buying ‘unprecedented’ amounts of uranium and ‘stockpiling like crazy’. EURATOM may have difficulties fulfilling its mission of ‘a regular and equitable supply’ of fuel to its friends. That’s not a problem a EURSUN or a EURWIND would have!