Cigar Lake was the largest producer of uranium in 2019. But what are the other top uranium mines? Find out here.
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Together, those three nations accounted for over two-thirds of uranium mining, with Kazakhstan taking a 42 percent share of output and Canada and Australia taking 13 and 12 percent shares, respectively. A wide variety of uranium-mining companies contribute to the world’s total production.
But where in the world are the top uranium mines? While many of them are located in Kazakhstan, Canada and Australia, that’s not the case for all of the largest uranium mines.
To give investors a better idea of where the top uranium mines are located and where the nuclear fuel comes from, we’ve put together a list of the 10 biggest uranium mines in the world, based on the latest statistics and information from the World Nuclear Association. Read on to learn more about uranium miners, plus uranium reserves and uranium exploration.
1. Cigar Lake
2019 production: 6,924 tonnes
Northern Saskatchewan-based Cigar Lake is the world’s top uranium mine. It is known for being the highest-grade uranium mine, with an average grade of 14.69 percent U3O8.
Uranium miner Cameco (TSX:CCO,NYSE:CCJ) owns 50 percent of Cigar Lake and is the mine’s operator. Ore from the underground mining property is processed at Orano’s McClean Lake mill, located 70 kilometers from the mine. In March 2020, the companies jointly decided to suspend work at Cigar Lake and McClean Lake due to the coronavirus outbreak. In July, it was announced that operations would resume in September; however, operations at McClean Lake were soon suspended once again after a mill employee tested positive for COVID-19.
Cigar Lake was commissioned in 2014 and began commercial uranium production in May 2015. It accounted for 13 percent of global uranium output in 2019. Orano (37.1 percent), Idemitsu Uranium Exploration Canada (7.875 percent) and TEPCO Resources (5 percent) also hold stakes in the mine.
2019 production: 3,400 tonnes
The Husab open-pit uranium mine in Namibia is owned by Swakop Uranium, a partnership between China and Namibia. Epangelo Mining Company, a Namibian state-owned entity, owns 10 percent of Swakop, while Taurus Minerals holds the other 90 percent; Taurus itself is owned by China General Nuclear Power Group and the China Africa Development Fund.
According to the Namibia Uranium Association, Husab represents China’s single largest investment in Africa. Husab was discovered in 2008, and produced its first drum of uranium oxide for export in December 2016. As of 2019, the operation accounted for 6 percent of global uranium production.
3. Olympic Dam
2019 production: 3,364 tonnes
BHP (ASX:BHP,NYSE:BHP,LSE:BHP) owns the Olympic Dam mine, which produces copper, along with uranium, gold and silver. The mine, which has underground and surface operations, plus a fully integrated processing facility, has been in action since 1988, and in 2019 its output accounted for 6 percent of the world’s uranium production.
Australia has the largest uranium reserves in the world, and holds about 30 percent of potential global supply. As mentioned, in 2019 it was the world’s third largest producer, behind Kazakhstan and Canada.
4. Moinjum and Tortkuduk
2019 production: 3,252 tonnes
Moinjum and Tortkuduk are located in Kazakhstan and operated through a joint venture between Orano and Kazatomprom. Kazatomprom is Kazakhstan’s state-owned uranium company and is the world’s top uranium-producing company. Orano owns a 51 percent stake in the joint venture, while Kazatomprom has 49 percent ownership. The companies’ partnership is known as KATCO, and was formed in 1996. The Muyunkum deposit is also part of the joint venture for the energy fuel.
In 2019, Moinjum and Tortkuduk accounted for 6 percent of total world uranium output.
5. Inkai, sites 1 to 3
2019 production: 3,209 tonnes
The in situ recovery Inkai uranium mine is a joint venture between Cameco (40 percent) and uranium miner Kazatomprom (60 percent). Inkai accounted for 6 percent of the world’s uranium output in 2019.
Kazatomprom’s operations have been impacted by the coronavirus, with the company announcing in early April 2020 that it would be reducing operational activities at all of its mines in Kazakhstan for about several months. In August, the company resumed operations, but said its planned production levels through 2022 would decrease by 20 percent.
6. Budenovskoye 2
2019 production: 2,600 tonnes
The in situ recovery Budenovskoye 2 operation, located in Kazakhstan, produced 5 percent of the world’s uranium in 2019. Budenovskoye 2 is located at the Karatau uranium mine, which is owned by the Karatau joint venture — the joint venture is a Kazakh-registered limited liability partnership that is held by uranium producer Kazatomprom and Uranium One.
Uranium One is a subsidiary of ROSATOM, Russia’s state-owned nuclear energy company. Uranium One takes care of ROSATOM’s uranium output outside Russia.
Karatau started producing in 2009, and the joint venture has the right to carry on exploration, mining and sales operations at Budenovskoye 2 under a long-term subsoil use contract with Kazakhstan.
2019 production: 2,076 tonnes
The Namibia-based Rossing uranium mine was responsible for 4 percent of the world’s production in 2019. The open pit has operated since 1976, and was the country’s first commercial uranium mine.
Rio Tinto (ASX:RIO,LSE:RIO,NYSE:RIO) was the company that brought Rossing into production, but it is no longer involved in the mine. In November 2018, Rio Tinto announced that it would be selling its majority stake of 68.62 percent, and it completed the sale in July 2019. Rio Tinto sold its share of Rossing to China National Uranium.
Aside from China National Uranium, a number of companies have interests in Rossing. The Namibian government has 3 percent, while the Iranian Foreign Investment Company has 15 percent; the Industrial Development Corporation of South Africa owns 10 percent, and individual shareholders own the rest.
2019 production: 1,912 tonnes
SOMAIR is a subsidiary of uranium producer Orano that operates in Niger; it is 63.4 percent owned by Orano and 36.66 percent owned by Sopamin, the state agency that manages mining in Niger. SOMAIR is responsible for a large uranium mine, as is Cominak, another nearby Orano subsidiary in Niger. SOMAIR began production in 1971.
Uranium mining will begin at a third site near SOMAIR and Cominak when market conditions are more favorable. SOMAIR produced 4 percent of the world’s production for uranium in 2019.
9. Central Mynkuduk
2019 production: 1,964 tonnes
The Central Mynkuduk mine, held by Kazatomprom in Kazakhstan, accounted for 3 percent of the world’s uranium production in 2019. With one of the lowest production costs in the world, the mine is expected to operate into 2032.
In August 2020, China General Nuclear Power Group announced it was working on a deal with Kazatomprom to purchase the Mynkuduk mine.
10. South Inkai (Block 4)
2019 production: 1,601 tonnes
The South Inkai in situ mine is another property held jointly by Uranium One (indirect 70 percent) and Kazatomprom (30 percent). Production began at South Inkai in 2009 and accounted for 3 percent of the world’s uranium production in 2019.
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Securities Disclosure: I, Melissa Pistilli, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.