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In 2005 and 2009, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) held, at its Headquarters in Vienna, Austria, two major international symposia on uranium production and raw materials for the nuclear fuel cycle in order to discuss all aspects of uranium raw materials for the nuclear fuel cycle with an emphasis on ensuring the long term sustainability of nuclear power programmes.
Since the last of these symposia, notwithstanding the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident in 2011, there continue to be strong expectations as to the growth of nuclear power worldwide, leading to an increase in uranium demand and in turn of the price of uranium. Since 1990, the gap between uranium demand and fresh supply from existing mines has been filled by secondary supply. However, with decreasing availability of such ‘above ground resources’, the uranium resource base and production have to be further expanded. The uranium industry revived in the late 2000s, and there was a dramatic spurt in uranium exploration and mining activities in several countries, reflected in increased production, which for a while effectively closed the production–consumption gap. However, demand will significantly exceed supply again very soon.
Adequate services and expertise and modern technologies are needed to ensure a sustainable supply of uranium raw materials to fuel both operating and future nuclear power reactors. Further, good regulation, sound environmental management, education and training are required to minimize the environmental and social impact of uranium mining and production and to contribute to public acceptance of nuclear energy.
The long term sustainability of nuclear power will depend on, among several factors, an adequate supply of uranium resources that can be delivered to the marketplace at competitive prices. New exploration technologies and a better understanding of the genesis of uranium ores will be required to discover often deep-seated and increasingly hard to find uranium deposits. Exploration, mining and milling technologies should be environmentally benign, and site decommissioning plans should meet the requirements of increasingly stringent environmental regulations and societal expectations.
The purpose of this symposium is to analyse uranium supply–demand scenarios and to present and discuss new developments in uranium geology, exploration, mining and processing, as well as in environmental requirements for uranium operations and site decommissioning.