Nuclear power is often considered “domestic” even when the uranium is imported. Craig Morris can’t help noticing how we are concerned about dependency upon oil and coal imports, but not uranium.
In a recent article, I talked about how watts per m2, an expression of energy density, is seldom used in Germany. The concept of energy density is commonly used to discredit renewables, with proponents of nuclear often comparing the amount of land needed to produce enough renewable power to replace a single nuclear plant (which takes up relatively little space). The conclusion is that we simply don’t have enough land to do without nuclear. One infographic artist created a chart showing the large number of wind turbines required to replace a single nuclear plant. US utility Entergy has also compared nuclear favorably to both wind and solar in terms of space (PDF).
Apparently, like wind turbines, these nuclear plants take fuel right out of the air. You see, none of these comparisons ever take account of the land used for uranium mining. And that has a rather bizarre outcome: nuclear power is considered domestic even when practically all of a country’s uranium is imported.
Take France, for instance, which gets more than 75 percent of its power from nuclear. Judging from this list made by the World Nuclear Association (WNA), France has practically made no uranium since 2004 – less than 10 tons per year, whereas the country actually consumes closer to 10,000 tons annually. In fact, France discontinued uranium mining in 2001 (PDF). And the list clearly shows that the biggest EU country in terms of uranium production, the Czech Republic, covers less than one percent of global demand.
The nearly complete lack of domestic uranium production within the EU has not, however, prevented nuclear from being considered domestic. Take a look at this chart from the European Commission from this year, which shows that the EU makes seven percent of the world’s energy, 28 percent of that from nuclear. Yet, almost all of the fuel for that power is imported. This assessment is nothing new judging from this EU factsheet for 2004 (PDF).
It gets worse – even the highbrow French geography series Dessous des cartes believes that French “energy dependence” is practically nonexistent thanks to nuclear – see this screenshot for yourself. Never mind that France imports almost all of its oil – and its uranium.
And then consider the irony: Germany faces criticism for its imports of hard coal. What’s more, the next time I fill up my car at a gas station in Germany, I’ll be sure to consider that “domestic oil.”
By the way, where does France get its uranium from? Mainly from Canada and Niger. Now I know what you’re thinking – didn’t the French recently send troops down to Niger, Mali’s neighbor, to protect their uranium mines? No, that’s just a conspiracy theory – don’t believe the meme, especially when it comes from such sources of ill-repute as the BBC, Reuters, and Deutsche Welle.