Nuclear fuel demand on the rise

The demand for nuclear material is pushing up prices of uranium ore, while illicit trafficking in radioactive materials is rising, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

While Europe debates the role of nuclear in its future power generation, new plants are springing up worldwide - and with them the demand for nuclear fuel. According to the IAEA, 27 nuclear plants are currently under construction.

The price of uranium ore, the raw material used to make nuclear fuel, has now risen to a record $47.25, fuelled by the demand from new and existing plants.

The economics of the global trade in uranium ore are complicated by the fact that half of the material comes from mines, and half from accumulated stocks and reprocessing.

But stocks now running low, and new mining sites are becoming increasingly difficult to set up as potential neighbours protest and governments throw up legislative barriers and refuse planning permission.

In Australia, for example, a ban on new mines persists at a state level despite the government's decision to remove it from federal law.

Perhaps driven by the high prices, as many as 103 cases of illegal sales and trafficking of nuclear and radioactive materials were reported in 2005, the IAEA's latest statistics show.

Eighteen of those involved nuclear materials, and 76 radioactive materials.

Two of the incidents involved highly-enriched uranium, a fissile material.

"From the terrorism threat standpoint, these cases are of little concern but they show security vulnerabilities at facilities handling highly-enriched uranium," the IAEA said.

Goska Romanowicz




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