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Nuclear Industry in North America

Uranium Mining:

In Canada, Uranium was first discovered in the mid-1800s on the north shore of Lake Superior. However, uranium ores first came to public attention in the early 1930s when the Eldorado Gold Mining Company began its operations at Port Radium, Northwest Territories (Great Bear Lake), to extract its radium content. Demand for uranium began with the initiation in 1942 of an Allied nuclear-weapons program, the Manhattan Project. At the end of the 1950s, 23 uranium mines and 19 processing plants were in operation. Canadian uranium production peaked in 1959, when more than 12,000 tonnes of uranium were produced. In the 1980s, Canada emerged as the world’s leading producer and exporter of uranium, with about 80% of its annual uranium production destined for export, principally to the US, Japan and Western Europe. Canada currently has three active uranium mines and three mills, with another mine under construction, all located in northern Saskatchewan. The country is the world’s second largest uranium producer, preceded by Kazakhstan. (Strateco Recourses). The Mine McArthur River is the worlds largest-producing uranium mine. Production in 2014: 7356 tons.

In 2013, the Quebec government declared a moratorium on uranium exploration and mining pending the outcome of a one-year generic environmental assessment of the long-term social, economic and environmental impacts of uranium mining in the Quebec context. That investigation involved public hearings and written interventions in 2014 followed by the writing of a report of more than 600 pages by a three-member panel. The final report was released on July 17, 2015. It recommends against uranium mining in Quebec in the present context and for many years to come. The Quebec government will now have to decide whether to make the uranium moratorium permanent, as British Columbia has done, or to legislate a ban on uranium mining as Nova Scotia has done, or to pursue some other course of action. (Uranium Network)

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In the USA, from World War II until 1971, the government was the sole purchaser of uranium ore in the United States. Uranium mining occurred mostly in the southwestern United States and drew many Native Americans and others into work in the mines and mills. Despite a long and well-developed understanding, based on the European experience earlier in the century, that uranium mining led to high rates of lung cancer, few protections were provided for US miners before 1962 and their adoption after that time was slow and incomplete. The resulting high rates of illness among miners led in 1990 to passage of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act. (American Public Health Association)
Having ended the subsidy policy in the 80s, most of the uranium mines in the US have been closed. Today there are more than 10,000 abandoned mines in 15 western states. The true number, location, existing hazard, and off-site migration potential for toxic and radioactive materials from these sites have not yet been adequately determined. 10 million people are estimated to live within 50 miles of a recorded abandoned uranium mine. Most of those locations are found in Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona and Wyoming. (Uranium Network). “The Mining companies walked away from their clean up responsibilities after decades of mining, leaving the public to bear their toxic legacy. The costs for clean-up of these abandoned sites have been moved from the past uranium mining operators onto the general taxpayers, as have the public health and environmental costs of these toxic sites”, said Charmaine White Face, an elder of the Oglala Sioux Nation.

In Mexico, uranium deposits have been discovered with more than 70,000 tonnes. So far, they are not extracted.

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Current state of Nuclear Power:

The USA is the world’s largest producer of nuclear power, accounting for more than 30% of worldwide nuclear generation of electricity. The country’s 100 nuclear reactors produced 798 billion kWh in 2014, over 19% of total electrical output. There are now 99 units operable (98.7 GWe) and five under construction. But the U.S. Watts Bara 2 project in Tennessee holds an record as its construction began in December 1972. The construction start of the other 4 units was in 2013. With only five reactors under construction and no new reactor started up in 19 years, the U.S. reactor fleet continues to age, with a mid-2015 average of 35.6 years, amongst the highest in the world: 33 units – every third reactor, up from every fourth reactor a year ago – have operated for more than 40 years, as World Nuclear Status Report says. Canada operates 19 reactors providing 100.9 TWh – an increase of 7 percent over the previous year—or 16.8 percent of the country’s electricity in 2014 (down from a maximum of 19.1 percent in 1994), but close to 60 percent of Ontario’s provincial power supply. In the USA 33 reactors have been permanently shut down.

Other countries in South and Central America do not use nuclear power.

Country in operation  
  number net capacity MWe
Canada 19 13,500
Mexico 2 1,330
USA 99 98,639
Country under construction  
  number net capacity MWe
USA 5 5,633

World Nuclear Status Report 2015

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Expected developments:

In Canada, the launch of a nuclear new-build program has not got beyond initial stages. In May 2012, the Government accepted the Environmental Impact Assessment report for the construction by OPG of up to four units at the Darlington site. On 17 August 2012, the CNSC issued a “Site Preparation License” for the Darlington project, “a first in over a quarter century”. But before the project proceeded, in October 2013, the Ontario Government pulled the plug and “decided against spending upwards of CAD 10 billion to buy two new nuclear reactors”. Ontario’s Long-Term Energy Plan, released in December 2013, confirmed the decision: “Ontario will not proceed at this time with the construction of two new nuclear reactors at the Darlington Generating Station.”

In Mexico,Energy Minister Pedro Joaquin Coldwell confirmed in May 2014 the country’s aim to double the share of renewable energy in the electricity generating capacity from 17 percent to 33 percent by 2018. Currently, fossil fuel plants account for four-fifths of the installed capacity and nuclear for the remaining 3 percent.

In the USA, the Energy Information Administration Office (EIA) in its 2014 Annual Energy-Outlook to 2040 reported that wholesale electricity prices have reduced quark spreads (the difference between electricity prices and the cost of nuclear fuel – the latter being a small fraction of annual costs) for all nuclear power plants, especially those with increasing operations and maintenance (O&M) costs or capital addition costs. As the industry’s Electric Utility Cost Group has reported, O&M costs for U.S. nuclear plants rose at an average annual rate of 3.5 percent during 2008Y12 period. On the basis of these figures, EIA assumes under its Accelerated Nuclear Retirements case that O&M costs for nuclear power plants will grow by 3 percent per year through 2040; that all nuclear plants not retired for economic reasons are retired after 60 years of operation; and that no additional nuclear power plants are built after the 5.5 GW of capacity currently under construction is completed. As EIA concluded, “this case reflects uncertainty regarding actions and costs associated with continued operation of the existing nuclear fleet.”