Nuclear Fuel Reserves

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Nuclear fuel is not a renewable resource, and reserves of uranium and other fuel materials must be carefully stewarded to ensure the long-term operability of nuclear energy systems. This article discusses the geological and geographical distribution of uranium resources globally, including unconventional sources such as uranium dissolved in seawater and surplus military nuclear materials. The growth of production capacity, supply, and demand relationships are presented under different scenarios. Secondary sources of uranium fuel, as well as nuclear fuel cycle options that can increase the quantity of nuclear fuel producible from a given starting quantity of natural uranium, such as the use of mixed-oxide fuels and underfeeding of enrichment plants, are introduced. The article also includes a discussion of breeder reactors, which can be fueled with a much broader range of nuclear fuel types than currently used reactor technologies, greatly increasing the proportion of natural uranium which can be used within nuclear power reactors. Finally, thorium is introduced as an alternative nuclear fuel to uranium, which is more abundant than uranium but brings unique technical challenges. At the start of 2017, globally there were estimated to be approximately 6,142,000 tonnes of identified uranium resources recoverable at a cost of less than $130 per kg of uranium. This should be sufficient to meet the needs of a projected nuclear reactor fleet for several decades, even under high growth scenarios for nuclear energy. As such, there is currently little commercial drive toward the use of alternative nuclear fuel types.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationKirk-Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology
EditorsClaudia Ley
ISBN (Electronic)9780471238966
Publication statusPublished - 23 Jun 2021


  • uranium
  • thorium
  • nuclear fuel
  • nuclear energy
  • Natural Resources


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