Vagaries of the uranium market

Presentation to TNI fellows meeting June 2012
17 July 2012

The global boom in uranium production, with its associated environmental and social costs, has stalled in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster

Short introduction

There are essentially two uses for uranium: weapons and electricity.  These have often been interconnected. The market for weapons only emerged globally in the wake of the Manhattan Project in the latter half of the 1940s, and was spurred on by the arms race associated with the Cold War, after Truman made the decision not to internationalise the weapons by placing them under the control of the UN. Nuclear electricity found its first commercial expression in 1956, when Queen Elizabeth II opened the first civilian nuclear reactor at Calder Hall in northern England. There are now approximately 435 civilian nuclear power plants in the world.

Both weapons and energy are derived from the processes entailed in the nuclear fuel chain[1]. The front end of the chain refers to the links evident in the run up to energy production in the reactor, whereas the back end refers to the proliferation of weapons and the disposal of nuclear waste.


Mining of uranium is the first link in the chain. Up to 1945 the industry was aware of small deposits in Czechoslovakia, Germany, Portugal and the Belgian Congo. In fact the uranium for the first nuclear weapons came from the mines in the Congo’s Katanga province. From 1945, production was globalised. Large deposits were obtained from Australia, Canada, South Africa, the USA and the USSR. 

[1] Interesting how the nuclear industry calls this the nuclear fuel cycle on the pretext that a cycle is in harmony with other natural processes (cf. the water cycle). 


photo by spacepleb.