The Nuclear Fuel Report

Global Scenarios for Demand and Supply Availability 2021-2040

Purchase a copy of the report from the World Nuclear Association Shop.

The 20th edition of the World Nuclear Association's biennial report on the outlook for nuclear power and nuclear fuels. It has become the definitive reference source of the world industry and is available at a price of £850.



World Nuclear Association has published reports on nuclear fuel supply and demand at roughly two-yearly intervals since its foundation in 1975. The 20th edition of The Nuclear Fuel Report was released in September 2021 and includes scenarios covering a range of possibilities for nuclear power to 2040.

Nuclear power currently contributes approximately 10% of the world’s electricity production. It is expected to play an increasingly important role in future electricity and energy supply for several reasons, including:

  • The near-zero carbon dioxide and other pollutant emissions associated with nuclear power generation.
  • The on-demand reliable and secure nature of nuclear power, attractive to developing countries, those lacking indigenous energy resources, and to developed countries intent on introducing high shares of renewables, while maintaining grid stability.
  • Its long-term cost-competitiveness.
  • The industrial and human-capital benefits associated with its development and use.
  • The ability to produce near zero-carbon heat, in addition to electricity, that could help to decarbonize many hard-to-abate sectors of the economy.

This 2021 edition of The Nuclear Fuel Report continues a positive trend in nuclear generating capacity projections that began in the previous (2019) edition. This has reversed a negative trend that had spanned the preceding three reports (2013, 2015 and 2017). Despite a slight reduction in nuclear generating capacity projections that can be seen in the near to mid term in the Reference and Upper scenarios, all three cases show considerable growth from 2035 onwards due to vast nuclear construction programmes in East and South Asia, extended operational lifetimes of existing reactors and anticipated expansion of the pool of nuclear countries due to more newcomer countries expected to operate their first reactors before 2040. 

Three scenarios for world nuclear generating capacity up to 2040 have been prepared, referred to as the Reference, Upper and Lower Scenarios. As of mid-2021, world operable nuclear capacity was around 394 GWe (from 442 units), and about 60 GWe (57 units) was under construction. In the Reference Scenario, nuclear capacity is expected to rise to 439 GWe by 2030 and to 615 GWe by 2040. In the Upper Scenario, the equivalent figures are 521 GWe in 2030 and 839 GWe in 2040. The Lower Scenario shows a slight increase that becomes more pronounced after 2030 due to the commissioning of new reactors in China, India and several newcomer countries, compensating for reactor closures in the USA and Western Europe.

World reactor requirements for uranium in 2021 are estimated at about 62,500 tU. In the Reference Scenario, these are expected to rise to 79,400 tU in 2030 and 112,300 tU in 2040. In the Upper Scenario, uranium requirements are expected to be about 99,000 tU in 2030, and 156,500 tU in 2040. In the Lower Scenario, the requirements are expected to rise to nearly 70,000 tU in 2030 and 79,400 tU in 2040.

World uranium production dropped considerably from 63,207 tU in 2016 to 47,731 tU in 2020. The currently depressed uranium market has caused not only a sharp decrease in uranium exploration activities (by 77% from $2.12 billion in 2014 to nearly $483 million in 2018, according to the 2020 edition of the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency and International Atomic Energy Agency’s Uranium Resources, Production and Demand) but also the curtailment of uranium production at existing mines, with more than 20,500 tonnes of annual production being idled.

Three scenarios for uranium production to 2040 have been developed by evaluating current and future mine production capabilities. In the Reference case, global primary uranium production is expected to be around 70,100 tU in 2030 before declining to 50,600 tU in 2040. In the Upper case, the equivalent figures are 76,100 tU and 53,200 tU, respectively. The partial return of idled mines to production is expected to commence in 2023 and in 2024 in the Upper and the Reference Scenarios, respectively, and in 2025 in the Lower case.

Secondary supplies of uranium are projected to have a gradually diminishing role in the world market, decreasing from the current level in supplying 14-18% of uranium reactor requirements to 5-8% in 2040 (depending on the scenario). However, in the near term, one of the major components of secondary supply, commercial inventories, will continue to play an indispensable part in bridging the gap between supply and demand.

Beyond mining, the report found that:

  • In the conversion sector, near-term reactor requirements in UF6 will be largely covered by commercial inventories. By 2023, global conversion production is expected to meet requirements due to the ramp-up and restart of existing facilities. Nevertheless, in the long-run more conversion capacity will be needed.
  • In the enrichment sector, excess capacity is currently used for underfeeding and tails re-enrichment, bringing in approximately 6,000-8,000 tU in support of the undersupplied uranium market. This will largely be reduced over time, as enrichment requirements rise due to nuclear generating capacity growth.
  • In the fuel fabrication sector, competition may become more intense from both the commercial and technological perspective, due to increased interest in developments of advanced fuels (e.g. for non-light water reactors). Nuclear fuel demand increasing in Asia and decreasing in the West may cause fuel vendors to move from a regional to a more global market approach.

The report concludes that rapid uranium demand growth in a number of countries, above all in China, will result in the need for additional mined uranium within the period covered by the scenarios. In 2020 uranium supply was nearly 30% less than reactor fleet requirements for that year. Irrespective of the uranium supply scenario, the capacity of all presently-known mining projects will have to at least double by the end of the forecast period. There is no doubt that sufficient uranium resources exist to meet future needs; however, the producers are waiting for the market to rebalance in order to start reinvesting in new capacity and bringing idled and shutdown projects back to production. Additional conversion capacity is also likely to be needed, while enrichment and fuel fabrication capacities appear to be sufficient to cope with demand.

World Nuclear Association Member organisations can download a PDF of the report from the Members website.


Related information

World Nuclear Supply Chain: Outlook 2040

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