Uranium: the fuel of a utopian energy economy

Uranium: the fuel of a utopian energy economy

Uranium is the primary fuel for nuclear energy, powering more than 400 reactors which consist of ten% of the annual electricity production in the world.

As countries return to nuclear power as a clean source of energy, uranium has become a strategically important metal for the future.

This infographic sponsored by CanAlaska Uranium explores how the unique properties of uranium enable nuclear energy to be clean and efficient, and highlights prospects for its future. This is part 3 of 4 in the Road to Energy Utopia series.

Why uranium is unique

Nuclear energy ultimately arises from the radioactivity of uranium atoms, which produce large amounts of energy when split by the process of fission.

Besides the radioactive nature of uranium, its energy density – the amount of energy it contains per unit mass – is one of its exceptional properties, which makes it considerably more powerful than other energy fuels.

The table below compares the energy density of uranium to other fuels, expressed in megajoules of energy contained per kilogram of fuel:

FuelTypeEnergy density (MJ/kg)
CoalFossil fuels24
Crude oilFossil fuels44
DieselFossil fuels45
GasolineFossil fuels46
Liquefied natural gasFossil fuels55
Uranium-235 (enriched to 3.5%)nuclear fuel3,900,000

Enriched uranium-235, the fuel used by commercial nuclear reactors, contains 3.9 million megajoules of energy per kilogram of weight, which is far greater than the energy density of traditional fossil fuels.

For this reason, a relatively small amount of nuclear fuel can produce significant amounts of energy by fission, resulting in various advantages for nuclear energy:

  • High energy return on investment (EROI)
    Nuclear energy has the highest EROI of all energy sources, returning 75 units of energy for every unit of energy expended in construction and operation.
  • Small land footprint
    Nuclear power plants have the smallest land footprint per unit of electricity at 0.3m2 per megawatt hour.
  • Minimal waste
    Nuclear reactors produce little waste or spent fuel, and only a small portion of it is highly radioactive. Spent fuel can also be recycled.

Fueling a clean energy future with uranium

The outlook for uranium has improved with countries re-embracing nuclear power.

In 2021, the world’s uranium needs for reactors totaled 62,496 tons. By 2040, this figure could increase from 79,400 tons lowercase to 156,500 tons in capital letters according to World Nuclear Association, to changing nuclear energy conditions and policies.

In 2021, the mines supplied approximately 77% uranium needed for reactors, with 23% from secondary sources such as inventory held by utilities and governments. While maintaining these stocks is important for energy security, a sustainable mine supply of uranium will always be essential to meet the growing needs of reactors.

In part 4 of Road to energy utopia series, we explore how the metals copper and nickel are essential to the energy transition.

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Uranium: The Fuel for a Utopian Energy Economy

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