Cigar Lake was the largest producer of uranium in 2018. But what are the other top uranium mines? Find out here.
Together, those three nations accounted for over two-thirds of uranium mining, with Kazakhstan taking a 41 percent share of uranium market output and Canada and Australia taking 13 and 12 percent shares, respectively. A wide variety of uranium-mining companies contributed to 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
2018 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, the companies jointly decided to suspend work at Cigar Lake and McClean Lake due to COVID-19; activities remained suspended as of mid-May.
Cigar Lake was commissioned in 2014 and began commercial uranium production in May 2015. It accounted for 13 percent of global uranium output in 2018. Orano (37.1 percent), Idemitsu Uranium Exploration Canada (7.875 percent) and TEPCO Resources (5 percent) also hold stakes in the mine.
2. Olympic Dam
2018 production: 3,159 tonnes
BHP (ASX:BHP,NYSE:BHP,LSE:BLT) 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 2018 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 2018 it was the world’s third largest producer, behind Kazakhstan and Canada.
2018 production: 3,028 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 2018, the operation accounted for 6 percent of global uranium production.
4. Inkai, sites 1 to 3
2018 production: 2,643 tonnes
The in situ recovery Inkai uranium mine is a joint venture between Cameco (40 percent) and uranium miner Kazatomprom (60 percent). Kazatomprom is Kazakhstan’s state-owned uranium company and is the world’s top uranium-producing company.
Kazatomprom’s operations have been impacted by the coronavirus, with the company announcing in early April that it would be reducing operational activities at all of its mines in Kazakhstan for about three months. Inkai accounted for 5 percent of the world’s uranium output in 2018.
2018 production: 2,102 tonnes
The Namibia-based Rossing uranium mine was responsible for 4 percent of the world’s production in 2018. The open pit has operated since 1976, and was the country’s first commercial uranium mine.
Rio Tinto was the company that brought Rossing into production, but it is no longer involved in the mine. In November 2018, it 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.
6. Budenovskoye 2
2018 production: 2,081 tonnes
The in situ recovery Budenovskoye 2 operation, located in Kazakhstan, produced 4 percent of the world’s uranium in 2018. 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.
2018 production: 1,900 tonnes
Tortkuduk is located in Kazakhstan, and is operated through a joint venture between Orano and Kazatomprom. Orano owns a 51 percent stake in the joint venture, while Kazatomprom has 49 percent ownership. The company’s 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 2018, Tortkuduk accounted for 4 percent of total world uranium output.
2018 production: 1,783 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 3 percent of the world’s production for uranium in 2018.
2018 production: 1,695 tonnes
The Ranger mine, held by Energy Resources of Australia (ASX:ERA), accounted for 3 percent of the world’s uranium production in 2018, but more recently it’s been on the path to closure.
Energy Resources, which is majority owned by Rio Tinto, has a plan in place to cease mining at the site by January 2021, with full rehabilitation occurring by January 2026. It’s worth noting that Ranger’s closure will be expensive and comes on the back of prolonged environmental issues at the mine. Some industry participants have expressed doubts that the shutdown will be properly completed.
10. Kharasan 2
2018 production: 1,631 tonnes
The Kharasan mine is another property held jointly by Uranium One (30 percent) and Kazatomprom (33.98 percent); the remaining stakes are held by a consortium of Japanese utilities and a trading company. Commercial uranium mining began in 2013; little other information is available.
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Securities Disclosure: I, Charlotte McLeod, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.