Energy Highlight of the Week
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Uranium Marketing Annual Report
Domestic uranium production is at historical lows in the United States, resulting in the continued importation of the nuclear fuel from foreign nations. In 2017, owners and operators of nuclear power plants in the U.S. purchased 40 million pounds of uranium from abroad, with Canada, Australia, Russia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan representing the top five countries of origin. These nations represented 84% of the total U.S. uranium purchases on the year. The United States supplied just 3 million pounds, or 7%, of uranium purchased by American power plants. Domestic production of uranium concentrate began in 1949 but did not peak until 1980 when the U.S. was producing nearly 45 million pounds of concentrate per year. While 2017 domestic uranium production was at its lowest level since 2003, 2018 is likely to see its lowest point since the early 1950’s. This shows a high reliance on outside sources for a material that is critical to the operation of nuclear power plants. Though the U.S. continues to obtain uranium from other nations, purchases are actually down from recent years due to a combination of increasing retirements of nuclear power plants and rising uranium inventories held by owners and operators of nuclear plants. In September, New Jersey’s Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station closed, making it the sixth reactor to retire in the past five years. This leaves 98 operable nuclear plants in the United States. Another twelve reactors have announced plans to retire within the next seven years, highlighting the trend of declining domestic of nuclear power generation. Based on this, uranium purchases are likely to continue decreasing as U.S plant operators anticipate reduced demand.