Uranium scaled $60 per pound last Friday, for the first time since 2011. Uranium prices have risen by 20% so far in 2023, according to the World Nuclear Association (WNA) biennial report. Demand for the metal has risen in recent times due to its application in nuclear energy production and the increasing popularity of nuclear as a renewable energy resource, even among sceptics. Uranium has outperformed the price rise of other metals so far this year.
The WNA has also predicted world reactor requirements for uranium will reach nearly 130,000 tonnes (t) in 2040, up from an estimated 65,650t in 2023. The capacity of operable nuclear plants is predicted to be 686GW by 2040, an upward revision from the 615GW the report estimated in 2021.
China is in large part driving the increase in demand for nuclear energy. In 2020, the nation overtook France to become the world’s second-largest producer, with an operating capacity of 96GW, according to official data. It currently has 38 nuclear power reactors in operation and 19 under construction. The National Energy Administration, China’s energy regulator, is expected to set the country’s nuclear capacity target to 120–150 GW by 2030, up from 38GW in 2017. This has prompted the International Atomic Agency to describe China as “the world’s fastest expanding nuclear power producer”.
Construction of small modular reactors (SMRs) has also contributed to the price rise of uranium. SMRs are smaller than traditional nuclear power plants with a power capacity of up to 300MW but take less time and money to build.
Russia is a leader in the field with two floating SMR reactors entering commercial operation in 2020. The WNA predicts the capacity of SMRs globally will reach 31GW by 2040.