Saudi Arabia’s Uranium Prospecting Comes Up Short

  • Saudi Arabi’s Uranium Plan Dim on Prospecting Results
  • Red Book / Global Uranium Production Down 12%
  • Argentina to Freeze Chinese Nuclear Project
  • PacifiCorp Forecasts Need for Two Additional Natrium Reactors
  • X-energy Partners with Kinectrics for Helium Test Facility
  • Savannah River to Provide HALEU Fuel for Advanced Nuclear Reactors
  • India Approves Construction of Ten New 700 MW PHWRs
  • Idaho Lab Opens Its Software for Licensing to Industry

Saudi Uranium Plans Dim on Prospecting Results

saudi_arabia_pol_2003(WNN contributed to this report) For the first time Saudi Arabia has released figures on its uranium exploration efforts which are included in the annual OECD/NEA “Red Book”  which covers world uranium reserves.

For the Saudis the reported results are a disappointment. So far the Saudi exploration effort, aided by Chinese geologists, has only turned up small qualities of “inferred” deposits.

This is the least accurate method of measuring an ore deposit and no investor will put money into a mine with only inferred results from prospecting.

In other words, despite much PR over the past several years about using its domestic uranium resources to fuel its planned commercial reactors, and to mount an enrichment program, so far the cupboard is bare when it comes to having any of it worth digging up. In January 2022 Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman al-Saud told a mining conference in Saudi Arabia that the kingdom planned to use its uranium resources to develop a nuclear power program.

“We do have a huge amount of uranium resource, which we would like to exploit and we will be doing it in the most transparent way,” Prince Abdulaziz told the Future Minerals Summit in Riyadh.

The data about Saudi uranium are contained in the  29th edition of the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) and International Atomic Energy Agency’s jointly produced reference work on uranium. It provides analyses and information from 54 uranium producing and consuming countries and includes a ‘snapshot’ of the situation from data available in early 2021.

The Red Book reports that over the past six years Saudi Arabia has spent more than $37 million prospecting for deposits but only managed to identify ores that would be “severely uneconomic” to mine. Some of the hard rock deposits containing the uranium, which is mixed in with other minerals, are more than 1,000 meters (3,330 feet) underground.

Chinese geologists have carried out the prospecting and exploratory drilling program for Saudi Arabia. China also has offered to help Saudi Arabia build a hard rock uranium mill if economically recoverable deposits are found.

This current state of affairs could change if subsequent prospecting turns up “indicated deposits” which USGS defines as the most reliable method of reporting commercially recoverable uranium bearing ore.

“Indicated deposits” are defined by the US Geological Survey as those for which the grade (recoverable yields of at least 1-4 pounds/ton U3O8) is computed from drill-hole samples, exposures in mine workings and natural outcrops, gamma-ray logs, and production data, and for which the tonnage is computed by projection for a reasonable distance on geologic evidence from points of exposure (drill holes, mine workings, and natural outcrops).

This outcome of poor results from a sustained effort at prospecting at three sites in Saudi Arabia could put a hold on Saudi plans for uranium enrichment or downstream development of the yellowcake for nuclear fuel or weapons grade material.

Buying uranium on the world market might not be a near-term viable option as globally trade is regulated by nations that produce uranium based on compliance with nonproliferation treaties. Saudi Arabia is deficient in this area and has not, so far, been able to obtain even small quantities of uranium fuel for use in a university research reactor.

Saudi Arabia has had a safeguards agreement in force with the IAEA since 2009, but has nor signed an  Additional Protocol needed to allow for IAEA inspections of nuclear facilities which are a precondition for acquiring nuclear fuel for reactors. According to the World Nuclear Association,  Argentina’s envoy to the IAEA has said that further safeguards arrangements will be needed before the research reactor it is building at KACST can be fueled.

No nation that is a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) will provide  nuclear fuel to Saudi Arabia if it does not sign on to the IAEA’s requirements for inspections.  The IAEA is engaged in helping Saudi Arabia develop a nuclear safety regulatory framework, but this effort does not address the nonproliferation issues.

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Red Book / Global Uranium Production Down 12%

Uranium symbol(NucNet) Global uranium mine production decreased by nearly 12% from 2018 to 2020 with major producing countries including Canada and Kazakhstan limiting total production in recent years in response to a depressed uranium market, according to the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA).

The report cautions that the uranium resource figures presented are a “snapshot” of the situation as of 1 January 2021, reported mainly from official government sources, and that readers “should keep in mind that resource figures are dynamic and related to commodity prices.”

World nuclear capacity expected to rise “for the foreseeable future” and sufficient uranium resources exist to support continued use of nuclear power and significant growth in nuclear capacity for electricity generation and other uses in the near to long term.

In the latest edition of ‘Uranium Resources, Production and Demand,’ known as the Red Book, the NEA says uranium production cuts deepened suddenly with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020.  These planned reductions were greatest in Canada and Kazakhstan.

Five Countries Account For More than 80%

Kazakhstan remained by far the world’s largest producer, even as production was eased back from 21,705 tU in 2018 to 19,477 tU in 2020. Kazakhstan’s 2020 production alone totalled more than the combined production in that year from Australia, Namibia, Canada, and Uzbekistan, respectively the second, third, fourth and fifth largest producers of uranium in 2020. These five countries accounted for 81% of global uranium output that year.

Globally, Australia continues to lead with 28% of the world’s identified recoverable resources. Almost 80% of Australia’s uranium is related to a single site, BHP’s Olympic Dam deposit in South Australia.

The US buys almost all of its uranium for nuclear fuel to run its reactors on the global market and only produces about 1% of its needs from domestic mining operations.

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Argentina to Freeze Chinese Nuclear Project

ice cubesDuring a one-on-one meeting on March 29th, between Argentina’s President Alberto Fernández and and US President Joseph Biden, Fernandez agreed to “freeze” a broad range of infrastructure projects planned to be built under China’s Belt & Road Program include an $8.5 billion project to build a 1000 MW Hualong One light water reactor in the near term with a follow-up effort to build a third PHWR.

The cost of the project in Argentina is estimated to be $8.5 billion with China providing 85% of the costs. A  key remaining hurdle, and it’s a big one, is the financing Argentina’s 15% share worth $1.2 billion. Given the country’s dire economic state, coming up with the cash in hard currency could be a challenge.

During the visit by Fernandez to the Oval office, President Biden reportedly said that China’s geopolitical excursions into South America, particularly in Argentina, were a serious security concern.

According to English language press reports in Argentina, Biden said the China could become an arms supplier to Argentina and it would manage a significant portion of the country’s nuclear energy.

In response Fernandez told Biden “the government of our country will freeze the structural projects that China intended to implement in Argentina,” which includes the Hualong One reactor.

Biden said that while he does not object to commercial relations, e.g., trade, between Argentina and China, but he expressed concerns about China’s plans for strategic investments in that country. They include shipping, port, and waterway improvements, fighter jets for the air force, and the nuclear power plant.

The project was reported to be in the planning stage in May 2019. The decision to “freeze” the project represents a major setback related to China’s effort to extend its Belt & Road program into South America.

This is the second setback for China in its efforts to establish the market for export of the domestic design. In November 2022 the UK government bought out China’s 20% equity stake in the Sizewell C project (twin 16050 MW EPRs) and effectively ended prospects for China to build one or more Hualong One reactors at the Bradwell site.

hualong one

The original deal with China would have added Argentina’s fourth (Atucha III) and fifth (Atucha IV) nuclear plants, adding 1,700MW to the grid. It was to have been composed of a 700 MW PHWR CANDU reactor and a 1,000 MW PWR Hualong One. Given the limits of Argentina’s finances, the deal was reduced to just the single 1000 MW unit in the near term with the date for the PHWR to be determined in the future..

According to a December 2022 report in the Diplomat, the nuclear project slated for the Atucha site was already experiencing difficulties getting off the drawing board. Problems included Argentina’s ability to pay back the loan, supply chain problems, and a lack of a qualified EPC and construction workforce. There were also concerns within the government in Argentina about the lack of control of the project once it was launched by China.

China’s CNNC had been demanding in return for favorable financial terms that Chinese companies be given priority for all aspects of the nuclear project including design, construction, and the fuel cycle.

By agreeing to acquire the PWR type reactor (Hualong One) from CNNC, Argentina would be giving up the ability to leverage its experience with CANDU type PHWRs with a new power station. It also would have to give up the right to provide its own fuel for the new power station. Argentina provides its own fuel for its PHWR reactors and was pressing China to be able to provide the fuel for both reactors, which was a nonstarter for CNNC..

Argentina has three PHWR nuclear reactors which provide a combined generating capacity of about 1,400 MW or 7% of the nation’s electricity. If built the Hualong One, which is a 1,000 MW PWR, would have nearly doubled that number. Argentina’s energy consumption for electricity generation relies mostly on gas (69%) and hydro (17%).

IMF Comes to the Rescue for Argentina – Again

rescueThe Associated Press reported President Fernández used the White House meeting to spotlight the economic strain his country faces asking President Joe Biden to back Argentina’s effort to renegotiate with the International Monetary Fund on terms of $44 billion debt. The country defaulted to private lenders in 2017.

As a result of the meeting between the two presidents, the US reportedly agreed to support an application to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to help Argentina with its finances. Fernández reportedly cited figures on the agricultural tragedy that Argentina is experiencing as a result of the drought.

Reuters reports that on March 31st the IMF released another $5.4 billion to Argentina, the fourth disbursement from a 30-month loan program. Overall, the loan provides $43 billion at current exchange rates.

On April 5th IMF cut the level of foreign currency reserves Argentina needs to build up by the end of this year by $1.8 billion, citing a major drought that has hammered production of top exports soy and corn.

Argentina is the IMFs’ biggest loan holder and is experiencing runaway inflation that may seriously impact its economy this year. Reuters reported that financial analysts estimate it will be difficult for Argentina to meet its foreign currency targets.

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PacifiCorp Forecasts Need for Two Additional Natrium Reactors

  • Updated deployment plan for Natrium reactors represents largest indication of the value of advanced nuclear technology in the United States.

PacifiCorp released its 2023 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) which selects two additional Natrium reactor and energy storage systems1 into the company’s generation resource mix by 2033. This IRP includes 1,500 megawatts of advanced nuclear energy from three total Natrium reactors.

Last fall, TerraPower and PacifiCorp announced a joint study of up to five additional Natrium reactors by 2035. The inclusion of two additional Natrium reactors in the IRP is the next step in PacifiCorp’s ongoing modeling and planning activities.

TerraPower and PacifiCorp will also continue to explore the possibility of deploying additional Natrium units by 2035. The location of these two additional Natrium plants in this IRP are in Utah; however, both companies will engage with local communities before any final sites are selected.

“The Natrium reactor offers carbon-free, dispatchable energy plus gigawatt hour scale energy storage, making it the ideal technology for utilities to deploy as they plan to meet decarbonization targets,” said Chris Levesque, TerraPower President and CEO.

“We are pleased with the additional Natrium units in this year’s IRP and look forward to continuing to work with PacifiCorp as we bring good-paying jobs and decades-long generating assets to local communities.”

TerraPower is currently bringing the Natrium demonstration plant to Kemmerer, Wyoming, where a PacifiCorp coal-fueled power plant is slated for retirement. In partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy, as part of their Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP), the Natrium demonstration plant will be a fully operating, commercial unit and will be online this decade, making it the first advanced reactor with gigawatt hour scale energy storage on the grid.

natrium power reactor facility

The Natrium technology is a 345-megawatt sodium-cooled fast reactor coupled with a molten salt-based integrated energy storage system that can boost power output to 500-megawatts for more than five and a half hours to serve peak demand; making it the ideal technology to pair with energy grids that have high penetrations of renewable resources.

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X-energy Partners with Kinectrics for Helium Test Facility

X-Energy Reactor Company, LLC (“X-energy” or the “Company”), a developer of advanced modular nuclear reactors and fuel technology, and Kinectrics, a global provider of engineering, testing, and certification services, announced a partnership to design, construct, and operate one of the first commercial-scale Helium Test Facilities (“HTF”) in North America. This facility will test and verify performance of critical structures, systems, and components of X-energy’s Xe-100 advanced small modular reactor in helium-based high-temperature and high-pressure environments.


The Xe-100 will use circulating helium gas to transfer heat from the reactor core through a heat exchanger to generate high-temperature steam that can be used to generate electricity or supply heat for industrial processes.

The HTF will test Xe-100 components and instruments under operating conditions and without the presence of any nuclear materials. The tests will enable design verification and give Kinectrics and X-energy performance data on key reactor systems, including the Reactivity Control & Shutdown System, Helium Purification System, Helium Circulator System, and Fuel Handling System.

X-energy and Kinectrics expect to announce the HTF site this summer and complete its detailed design in 2023, with the goal of having an operational facility in 2025.

Testing and design validation at the HTF will support X-energy’s recently announced plans to install its first Xe-100 reactors at one of Dow’s U.S. Gulf Coast sites as part of the Company’s participation in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program (ARDP). The program provides $1.2 billion in cost-shared federal funding for the delivery and demonstration of a first-of-a-kind commercial advanced nuclear plant and TRISO-X fuel fabrication facility.

“The Helium Test Facility is an integral part of testing our systems and components in expected operating conditions and verifying their safety, operability, and reliability,” said X-energy CEO, J. Clay Sell.

“In addition to helping our advanced nuclear technology enter the marketplace, this facility will bring together nuclear operators, researchers, and engineers to drive additional potential optimizations of our reactors. As a global leader in nuclear component testing, characterization, and certification, Kinectrics is expected to play a pivotal role in the success of X-energy’s products.”

“The Helium Test Facility is expected to provide the critical infrastructure and comprehensive testing required to support timely commercialization of the Xe-100,” said Kinectrics CEO, David Harris.

As previously announced on December 6, 2022, X-energy entered into a definitive business combination agreement with Ares Acquisition Corporation (NYSE: AAC) (“AAC”), a publicly-traded special purpose acquisition company. Upon the closing of the transaction, which is expected to be completed in the second quarter of 2023, the combined company will be named X-Energy, Inc. and its common equity securities and warrants are expected to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

Completion of the transaction is subject to approval by AAC’s shareholders, the Registration Statement being declared effective by the SEC, and other customary closing conditions.

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Savannah River to Provide HALEU Fuel for Advanced Nuclear Reactors

  • Savannah River Site Preps to Provide Fuel for Advanced Nuclear Reactors

srs logo

The US Department of Energy said in a press statement this week H Canyon chemical separations facility at Savannah River Site (SRS) is preparing to recycle used highly enriched uranium (HEU) and downblend it to provide much-needed fuel for U.S. advanced nuclear reactors.

The downblended fuel, known as high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU), is desirable for use in nuclear power reactor designs because it allows for smaller designs, longer life cores, increased fuel efficiency and less waste.

“The projected demand for HALEU far exceeds the current supply,” said HALEU Program Manager Jeff Hasty with EM contractor Savannah River Nuclear Solutions. “Because of H Canyon’s most recent mission of blending HEU into LEU for commercial fuel reactors, H Canyon has stored HEU solutions available for use.”

“This approval is a win-win,” said Hasty. “H Canyon has a useful path for the stored HEU, and at the same time, HALEU availability is increased for the emerging advanced reactors.”

Savannah River National Laboratory (SRNL) completed a series of analyses to show downblending of HEU from H Canyon liquid solutions could meet specifications needed for the advanced reactors. Those analyses helped SRS in initiating the planned HALEU project in H Canyon.

H Canyon has begun preparing for the pending mission, which will include equipment repair, training, procedure revisions and an environmental impact analysis. SRNL is also supporting the effort by completing a detailed set of sample analyses to ensure the HALEU meets reactor material specifications and to certify shipping containers for material transport. Downblending is expected to begin in 2025.

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India Approves Construction of Ten New 700 MW PHWRs

The government of India has given approval for installation of ten nuclear reactors in the country, union minister Jitendra Singh informed Parliament. Singh said that the government has approved the plans and financing of for ten indigenous design pressurized heavy water reactors (PHWR) of 700 MW each in fleet mode. The nuclear reactors will be set up in Karnataka, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.

The government has amended the Atomic Energy Act in 2015 to enable the joint ventures of NPCIL with public sector enterprises to set up nuclear power. These reactors are planned to be set up in ‘fleet mode’ progressively by the year 2031 at an estimate cost of of about $1.3 billion each.

The low cost per plant will include Indian labor rates and the fact that the supply chains for the reactors will be entirely comprised of Indian firms. The PHWRs run on natural uranium and do not require expensive reactor pressure vessels.


By comparison, similar units built in western industrialized countries, at current market rates, could cost between $3.5 billion to $4.6 billion each.

Singh also said during 2021-22 nuclear power reactors generated 47,112 million units of electricity, which comprises about 3.15% of the total electricity generated in the country.

He said the present installed nuclear power capacity is set to increase from 6,780 MW to 22,480 MW by 2031 on progressive completion of projects under construction and accorded sanction.

Separately, Russia has commissioned two 1000 MW VVER at Kudankulam in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, has two more under construction at an estimated cost of $1.68 billion each and are expected to be completed in 2025. A third duo is also planned for the site. No western reactors are under construction due to India’s supplier liability law which is essentially a “poison pill” for any publicly traded or private equity firm.

France has been “negotiating” for more than a decade to build six 1600 MWS EPRs at Jaitapur on India’s west coast but no deal has come to pass despite visits by French government officials to try to come to financial terms for the project. NPCIL, which is India’s state owned nuclear developer, has balked at the price pointing out that it can build many domestically designed and sourced 700 MW PHWRs for the price of just six EPRs which is exactly what it is doing.

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Idaho Lab Opens Its Software for Licensing to Industry

inl logoThe marketplace is a new website developed to widely distribute INL’s innovative software. Its goal: to accelerate industry adoption and fuel innovation in other research organizations. Ultimately, the marketplace is designed to help fulfill the lab’s vision to change the world’s energy future and secure our nation’s critical infrastructure.

“At INL, technology transfer into the marketplace is important to our mission as it puts our innovations to use and makes actual impact in our community,” said INL Technology Deployment Director Jason Stolworthy. “The website gives us another outlet to distribute and license our software to achieve our mission.”

The marketplace provides access to software codes and data sets developed at INL through various forms of licenses, including open-source and proprietary options. The site will expand as more software is developed and becomes available. The nuclear category contains 18 separate applications ready for use.

View the site at Questions about licensing or available software can be emailed to

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