smaller uranium companies have also been affected negatively by the Fukishima accident—with an average stock decline of 40 percent—because they are dependent on capital markets to raise money to explore for new deposits. The long-term price of uranium has been less affected, with a decline from pre-Fukushima levels of $70-$73 per pound down to $68 per pound. Short-term growth of the nuclear industry has continued—there were 62 reactors under construction worldwide before the Fukushima accident and there are still the same 62 reactors under construction today. In addition, there have been no reports of operating uranium mines shutting down. Germany has announced a decision to phase out its reliance on nuclear power by 2022, but this decision is very recent and there is uncertainty as to whether Germany will be able to maintain it in the future. For example, Sweden announced in 1980 that it would phase out nuclear energy, but changed its decision in 1997; and Germany’s decision in 2000 to phase out the use of nuclear energy was initially delayed in 2010.
According to WNA (2011a), it is still too early to assess the full impact of the Fukushima accident on the world nuclear fuel market. Despite the permanent closure of a number of reactors in Japan and Germany and slowdowns in some programs in response to Fukushima, the WNA report notes that the global situation for energy supply and demand remains effectively unchanged. Prospects for new nuclear facilities remain strong in China, India, South Korea, and the United Kingdom, and developments in the United States, China, India, and Russia will remain particularly crucial in determining nuclear’s overall role in global electricity supply.
Uranium does not trade on an open market like other commodities. Buyers (states or utilities) and sellers (states or mining companies) negotiate contracts privately and confidentially. Spot uranium prices—usually representing less than 20 percent of supply—are published by the independent market consultants Ux Consulting and TradeTech (e.g., Figure 3.22). Most trade is by 3- to 15-year term contracts with producers selling directly to utilities, although the price in these contracts is often related to the spot price at the time of delivery.
Presently, about 435 reactors with a combined capacity of over 370 GWe require 65,500 tU (77,000 tonnes U3O8). Each GWe of increased capacity requires 400 to 600 tU for the first fuel load, followed by about 200 tU per year. The capacity is growing slowly, and the reactors are being run more efficiently. Also, many utilities are increasing the initial enrichment of their fuel (e.g., from 3.3 percent to more than 4.0 percent 235U), and then burning it longer or harder to have only 0.5 percent 235U left in the spent fuel (instead of 0.8 percent or more). As a consequence of increased efficiency, over the 20 years from 1970 there was a 25 percent reduction in uranium demand per kilowatt-hour output in Europe.