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Uranium availability and the breeder decision

Holdren, John P. (1974) Uranium availability and the breeder decision. Environmental Quality Laboratory Memorandum, 8. California Institute of Technology , Pasadena, CA. (Unpublished)

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The high priority assigned by the Federal government to the early development and commercial deployment of the Liquid Metal Fast Breeder Reactor (LMFBR) is attributed by some to the supposition that, without the breeder, a supply-price squeeze on uranium will soon materialize. The present paper examines this supposition by considering the technology and economics of uranium utilization in nonbreeder reactors, in the context of available information about uranium resources at various prices and projections of the growth of nuclear power through 2020. Reactor characteristics, cost sensitivities, and estimates of uranium resources used here are based largely on publications of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. The results show that existing reactor technologies -- light-water reactors (LWRs), high temperature gas reactors (HTGRs), or a mix of these -- could meet even the most enthusiastic projections of the expansion of nuclear generation through 2020 from presently known domestic uranium supplies, exploitable at $50 per pound of U_3O_8 or less. The increment in electricity costs that arises from increasing uranium prices in the absence of commercial breeder reactors is about 1 mill/kwhe in 2000 and about 2 mills/kwhe in 2020 in the worst case (very high growth, no HTGRs), and significantly less in more plausible cases. In the prospective of the probable costs of the alternatives, these increments are modest; for example, the breeder's greater insensitivity to the cost of uranium ore could easily be cancelled out if capital costs for the LMFBR prove higher than early estimates. Briefer attention is given here to potential difficulties with rapid expansion of uranium mining operations, with enrichment capacity, and with environmental impact of mining low grade ores. Timely action in the first two areas would be required to meet high growth projections, but no fundamental obstacles are apparent. The environmental issue needs more study, but on present evidence does not constitute a persuasive case for an early commitment to the LMFBR. It is concluded that the urgency often ascribed to early deployment of LMFBRs on grounds of uranium availability is, in fact, illusory.

Item Type:Report or Paper (Technical Report)
Additional Information:© 1974 Environmental Quality Laboratory. California Institute of Technology. Supported in part by the National Science Foundation, Research Applied to National Needs (RANN), under Grant No. GI-29726.
Group:Environmental Quality Laboratory
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Series Name:Environmental Quality Laboratory Memorandum
Issue or Number:8
Record Number:CaltechEQL:EQL-M-8
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Usage Policy:You are granted permission for individual, educational, research and non-commercial reproduction, distribution, display and performance of this work in any format.
ID Code:25745
Deposited By: Imported from CaltechEQL
Deposited On:19 Oct 2009
Last Modified:03 Oct 2019 03:08

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