What are the largest uranium companies in the world? We run through the firms producing the most of this crucial material.
After spending 2019 between about US$24 per pound and US$29, the U3O8 spot price has risen significantly in 2020, averaging US$29.99 over the first nine months of the year.
The closure of uranium mines in Canada and a reduction in production in Kazakhstan both helped push prices for the nuclear fuel to a four year high of US$33.93 this past May.
Even though some nuclear projects have been delayed in 2020, the future of the sector holds promise as countries strive to meet ambitious emissions and pollution-reduction targets.
New nuclear reactors will require more uranium production, which bodes well for uranium-producing companies. The long-term outlook for uranium shows that demand is projected to climb 25 percent higher by 2025. This uptick will largely come from Asia’s robust and growing nuclear energy industry.
For now, with spot prices for the energy fuel well below the US$50 per pound level, production costs are outpacing spot prices, making it unlikely that uranium miners will increase output in the near term. Low spot prices also impact exploration, meaning that the hunt for future deposits has slowed.
There is a silver lining — uranium is a cyclical commodity, experiencing times of prolonged price growth as well as lengthy depressed periods. Right now a resurgence appears to be starting, with more countries looking to build, rejuvenate or accelerate the construction of their nuclear energy fleets.
There is also increasing interest in small modular reactors. Capitalizing on the same processes used to create nuclear power on a smaller scale, small modular reactors offer an additional way to integrate atomic energy into a project or energy grid.
With that in mind, it’s worth taking a look at which companies are the world’s leading uranium miners. The list below lays out 2019’s five largest uranium companies that are publicly traded, providing a brief overview of what they got up to last year and what news they have released so far in 2020.
1. Cameco (TSX:CCO,NYSE:CCJ)
2019 production: 9 million pounds uranium
Cameco is at the top of this list of the largest uranium companies. In 2019, the major with mines in three countries accounted for 9 percent of the world’s uranium production.
In the US, Cameco owns the Smith Ranch-Highland operation in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, as well as the Crow Butte operation in Nebraska.
The company’s notable Canadian operations include Cigar Lake, which is considered the most prolific uranium mine in the world. Canada’s Cameco also operates the McArthur River mine and Key Lake mill, located in the Athabasca Basin, a well known uranium jurisdiction.
Additionally, Cameco has a 60 percent stake in a mine in Kazakhstan.
Due to COVID-19 regulations, Cameco temporarily suspended production at Cigar Lake in early 2020.
“We are in unprecedented and challenging times,” said Tim Gitzel, president and CEO. “Our leadership team took a measured approach and weighed many factors in assessing the situation both globally and locally to make this decision, which takes into account the specific and unique circumstances at Cigar Lake, a remote, isolated fly-in/fly-out northern Saskatchewan operation.”
Operations at the mine were suspended until late September.
In 2018, the world’s leading uranium producer shuttered McArthur River and Key Lake due to weak spot prices. The closure of the property reduced Cameco’s uranium supply dramatically from 23.8 million pounds in 2017 to 9.2 million pounds in 2018, down 61 percent.
While the company may have pulled back in Canada, it is full steam ahead in Australia, where the uranium producer has been working to advance its Yeelirrie project. To date, the project has been granted environmental approval. Estimations peg the resource at 128 million pounds of U3O8.
2. BHP (NYSE:BHP,ASX:BHP,LSE:BHP)
2019 production: 7.8 million pounds uranium oxide concentrate
Major miner BHP’s Olympic Dam mine in Australia is one of the largest deposits in the world. In addition to uranium, it also holds copper, gold and silver. According to the company, Olympic Dam has a fully integrated processing facility. In February 2018, BHP announced plans to invest AU$350 million in Olympic Dam and create 120 new jobs on site.
In 2019, output from the uranium project increased 5.9 percent year-over-year. Totals climbed from 7.4 million pounds of uranium oxide concentrate to 7.8 million pounds.
Olympic Dam, one of the country’s most notable uranium mines, produced 6 percent of global supply in 2019. The Australian mine also houses a massive uranium reserve. According to the World Nuclear Association, Olympic Dam has an estimated 347,000 tonnes of contained uranium oxide.
Currently, BHP is looking for new opportunities to add to its resource profile. One such property is Oak Dam in South Australia. In 2020, BHP conducted additional drilling at the site. The results are under review, but previous results indicate high-grade copper, gold, silver and uranium mineralization.
3. Rio Tinto (NYSE:RIO,ASX:RIO,LSE:RIO)
2019 production: 4.7 million pounds uranium
Rio Tinto slipped from second to the third on the list of largest uranium producers in 2019. Production declined 29 percent year-over-year for the international miner, slipping from 6.7 million pounds of uranium in 2018 to 4.7 million pounds in 2019.
The company’s uranium output comes partially through the 68.4 percent stake it holds in Energy Resources of Australia (ASX:ERA,OTC Pink:EGRAF), which manages the Ranger mine, Australia’s longest continually operating producer of uranium.
Rio attributes part of the output reduction to the lower-grade ore being processed at Ranger.
While the Ranger mine contributed 2 percent of the world’s uranium in 2018, it did not make the World Nuclear Association’s list of top-producing mines in 2019.
Prior to November 2018, Rio Tinto held a stake in the Rossing uranium mine in Namibia, one of the world’s largest and longest-running open-pit uranium mines. Rio sold its stake in the African project to China National Uranium for an estimated US$106 million.
The full divestment was completed in July 2020.
4. Energy Resources of Australia
2019 production: 3.8 million pounds uranium oxide
As mentioned, Energy Resources of Australia owns the Australia-based Ranger mine along with Rio Tinto. While mining stopped at Ranger in 2012, the company is currently still producing material from stockpiled uranium ore. In 2019, Ranger produced a total of 3.8 million pounds of uranium, which fell in line with the company’s production guidance for the year.
According to Energy Resources’ annual report, “production was impacted by the declining ore grades recovered from existing stockpiles.”
Energy Resources is continuing rehabilitation of the Ranger project site and is working towards finalizing closure. There is an estimated US$76 million held in the Ranger Rehabilitation Trust Fund, with a total of US$770 million earmarked for Ranger’s recuperation.
Mining and processing activities will conclude in the Ranger project area in January 2021, with final rehabilitation to be completed by January 2026.
5. Other uranium-producing companies
Two of the largest global uranium producers straddle the Europe-Asia border: Kazatomprom and Uranium One. Kazatomprom, the private national uranium and nuclear energy company of Kazakhstan, has several operations and joint ventures globally. As the largest uranium producer in 2019, its output topped 26 million pounds, or 22 percent of global supply.
Uranium One is a private subsidiary of Rosatom, Russia’s state-owned nuclear company. In 2019, Uranium One accounted for 8 percent of world output.
Orano, formerly AREVA, was a publicly traded company until 2017, when it was “split in two and recapitalized … after years of losses wiped out its equity.” It is also a significant uranium producer. Since the separation, Orano has done well, and contributed 11 percent of global uranium supply in 2019.
Aside from the largest uranium producers listed above, there are of course companies that produced smaller amounts. These smaller players include Energy Fuels (TSX:EFR,NYSEAMERICAN:UUUU), which put out 70,000 pounds of U3O8, and Ur-Energy (TSX:URE,NYSEAMERICAN:URG), whose 2019 U3O8 output came in at 47,957 pounds.
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Securities Disclosure: I, Georgia Williams, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.
Editorial Disclosure: Energy Fuels is a client of the Investing News Network. This article is not paid-for content.