Soaring Uranium Prices Put Damper on Nuclear Energy Buildout

After a top producer warned the world’s uranium production may start to slip, the price of the radioactive material started to soar.

Photo of yellow cake uranium, a solid form of uranium
Photo by Nuclear Regulatory Commission via CC BY 2.0

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Now we get the rich part of enriched uranium. 

Two weeks ago, Kazakhstan’s Kazatomprom, the world’s top uranium mining company and producer of 20% of the globe’s supply, warned that it expects two years’ worth of production doldrums. That’s pushed the price of uranium to a 16-year high, nuclear analysis company UxC told CNBC. This comes as multiple countries show a renewed interest in nuclear energy, and just after a new nuclear project in the UK was hit with spiraling costs.

Ticking Up Like a Geiger Counter

Uranium is (thankfully) quite a tricky thing to get your hands on. Kazatomprom said it expects production rates to dip because it’s having difficulty obtaining another substance you were warned about in chemistry class: sulfuric acid. According to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, sulfuric acid is used to extract uranium from the raw ore through a process called “leaching.” In August 2022, a study published in The Geographical Journal predicted that sulfuric demand could rise and eventually lead to shortages due to its use in both the growing green economy and in agriculture.

Countries including the US have launched a renewed nuclear-energy drive, and with Russia dominating the enriched uranium supply chain, a shortage of the raw material is far from welcome news. While uranium inflation now looms over operational costs, construction costs also look like they’re eternally ballooning:

  • French state-owned energy provider EDF is building a new power plant in the UK called Hinkley Point C, and announced earlier this week that the cost of building the plant could end up 33% higher than originally projected.
  • France’s government then started exerting political pressure on Westminster, saying the UK government should plug the roughly £12 billion ($15.2 billion) hole in Hinkley Point’s budget. 

From Sea to Eerily Glowing Sea: The US is keenly aware of its reliance on foreign uranium, having had to dip into its reserves of weapons-grade uranium in October 2022. This week, it opened its first new uranium mine in eight years, right next door to the Grand Canyon for maximum American-osity. The mine was opened despite fierce opposition by members of the local Native American Havasupai Nation.