The nuclear energy industry today
The nuclear energy industry addressed significant challenges in 2011 related to events at the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan. As a result, the outlook for the industry remains uncertain for the near to medium term. In the long term, however, we continue to see a very strong and promising growth profile for the nuclear industry.
On March 11, an earthquake and tsunami in Japan caused cooling systems at the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power station to fail, and radioactive materials were released. This reduced public confidence in nuclear power in some countries, most notably Germany, which represents 5% of world nuclear generating capacity. It decided to revert to its previous phase-out policy, shutting down eight of its reactors, and plans to shut down the remaining nine reactors by 2022.
It remains unclear what level of nuclear power Japan itself—which represents 12% of global nuclear generating capacity—will depend on in the future. As of February 8, 2012, Japan had three reactors operating. These three reactors are scheduled to enter regular maintenance shutdowns between late February and the end of April, at which time we expect all of Japan's nuclear reactors will be offline. Many are unaffected by the events in March 2011 but are offline for both planned and unplanned maintenance outages, and diminished public support has prevented utilities from gaining the regulatory and political approvals necessary to restart them. The Japanese government has ordered stress tests to be conducted on all reactors before allowing them to restart, and is implementing reforms to its existing nuclear regulatory framework and energy policy. Stress tests are progressing, but the government has not made any final decisions about restarting the reactors. Local governement approval will also likely be required to allow reactors to restart.
The current operating status of reactors in Germany and Japan has caused concern that, in the near to medium term, additional volumes could be introduced to the market from deferrals and/or cancellations of deliveries under sales contracts. This has caused market participants to be discretionary in their purchases. We believe that utilities will continue to work with producers to manage these materials and minimize the impact on the market.
Industry taking action
At the same time, the industry has taken action. Countries with nuclear programs are reviewing regulatory standards, assessing the safety of existing facilities and the design of reactors under construction or in the planning stage. Third party organizations such as the International Atomic Energy Association, Nuclear Energy Institute, World Association of Nuclear Operators, Institute of Nuclear Power Operators, and the World Nuclear Association are lending their support and technical expertise to governments and operators, and providing an accurate source of information for the public.
Preliminary safety reviews are now complete and lessons are being applied that we expect will make the industry even safer. Most countries with nuclear generation capacity have reconfirmed their commitment to the technology and to the future of nuclear energy.
Long-term outlook is positive
Electricity is essential to maintaining and improving the standard of living for people around the world. Demand for safe, clean, reliable, affordable energy continues to grow and the need for nuclear as part of the world's energy mix remains compelling. We expect demand for uranium to grow, and along with it the need for new supply to meet future customer requirements. You can read more about our outlook on future supply and demand in The long-term view.
Since March, the spot price has declined from $70 (US) per pound to the low $50 (US) per pound range. Utilities continue to be well covered under existing contracts. Given the current uncertainties in the market, we expect utilities and other market participants will continue to be cautiously opportunistic in their buying. We expect uranium demand in the near to medium term to remain somewhat discretionary, and so we expect prices to be relatively stable in 2012.
|(1) Average of prices reported by TradeTech and Ux Consulting (Ux)
|Average spot market price
|Average long-term price
|Fuel services ($US/kgU UF6)1
|Average spot market price
|Average long-term price
|Note: the industry does not publish UO2 prices.
|Average Ontario electricity spot price
World consumption and production
While the events of 2011 reduced our estimate of global consumption in 2011 to 165 million pounds, which is about 15% lower than our original estimate of 195 million pounds, the industry also faced a number of production challenges this year. We estimate 2011 global production was 143 million pounds, about 5% below our original estimate of 150 million pounds.
We expect global uranium consumption to increase to about 175 million pounds in 2012, and global production to be approximately 150 million pounds. Secondary supplies should continue to bridge the gap.
By 2021, we expect world uranium consumption to be about 230 million pounds per year, an average annual growth rate of about 3%.
World consumption for UF6 and natural UO2 conversion services decreased 3% in 2011. After the events in Japan, a number of reactors were taken offline (primarily in Germany and Japan) and a number of new reactor startups were delayed as increased safety checks were required. We expect world consumption to increase by about 6% in 2012 as delayed new reactors come online.
The Ux estimate for global spot market sales in 2011 is about 55 million pounds, 2% above the previous record high of 54 million pounds in 2009. Utilities were responsible for 34% of the purchases. Traders and financial players were the primary participants, taking advantage of the lower spot prices to make opportunistic purchases.
At the start of 2011, we expected long-term contracting volumes for the year to be between 150 million and 200 million pounds, but they ended the year at about 120 million pounds. We believe the decrease is likely related to utilities' reluctance to contract during this period of market and price uncertainty. We estimate long-term contracting volumes in 2012 will be between 80 and 100 million pounds, depending on supply, market expectations and market prices.