Uranium investment has proved to be a risky business, but the nuclear metal could again be poised for a substantial price rise as a projected supply deficit kicks in over the remainder of the decade.
LONDON (MINEWEB) – Only a short time ago it seems (five or six years actually) the uranium price was riding high, uranium explorers were springing up everywhere and uranium producer and explorer shares were among the strongest in the mining sector. The spot price soared to close on $140/lb in 2007, but then collapsed to the $40 or so level by early 2009 before making something of a recovery up to around $70/lb by early 2011, and seemed to be progressing upwards again with all kinds of predictions of huge growth in nuclear power leading to shortages ahead. Investors were beginning to climb in again – and then came Fukushima!
The earthquake and subsequent tsunami of March 11th 2011 resulted in a series of equipment failures, nuclear meltdowns and releases of radioactive materials. Wikipedia describes it as the largest nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986 and only the second disaster (along with Chernobyl) to measure Level 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale.
Indeed, much of the area around the plant remains uninhabitable due to high radioactivity levels, even now. However there have so far been no reported deaths due to radiation as a result, although long-term effects may change this. By way of comparison, it is thought that only 68 deaths have occurred to date as a direct result of the nuclear accident at Chernobyl, but again some longer term factors could raise this figure. In both cases population relocation will have been devastating for those who called the area around the respective plants home.
Fukushima resulted in knee-jerk reactions in a number of countries that seemed to put the whole future of nuclear power at risk. Japan shut down all its other nuclear reactors, Germany and Switzerland resolved to completely phase out nuclear power, and any decisions to go ahead with new nuclear power stations almost anywhere will have been affected by inherent fears of further nuclear disasters on the scale of Chernobyl and Fukushima.
Indeed it took many years for the political fallout from Chernobyl, and Three Mile Island before that, to dissipate and for the nuclear industry to begin to build again, but it had done so and pre-Fukushima it really did seem poised to take off with major plans for new nuclear power plants all around the world.
But the world is increasingly power hungry and fuels like coal, and perhaps to a lesser extent oil, generate excessive atmospheric pollution and are seen to be contributive to global warming, while non-polluting power generation systems like wind farms and solar energy cannot really provide enough new energy at anything like a reasonable cost and we are already starting to see a beginning of a return to nuclear power plant construction, but perhaps more caution being applied to power plant location in particular – the technology itself is seen as highly robust.
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