What are the largest uranium companies in the world? We run through the firms producing the most of this crucial material.
The U3O8 spot price rose in late 2018 and early 2019, but is a long way away from its 2015 highs.
Even so, many experts agree that the long-term outlook for uranium is positive, which bodes well for uranium-producing companies. Demand for the commodity is projected to be 25 percent higher by 2025, the World Nuclear Association says, mainly due to Asia’s growing nuclear energy industry.
For now, with spot prices well below US$50 per pound, and production costs outpacing spot prices, uranium miners are not increasing output. Exploration is also lower in the current environment.
There is a silver lining: Uranium is a cyclical commodity, experiencing times of prolonged price growth, as well as lengthy depressed periods.
The recent shift towards green energy sources has led to a uranium resurgence of sorts, with more countries around the world looking to build, rejuvenate or accelerate construction of their nuclear energy fleets. These machines generate electricity without carbon emissions.
There have also been advances and increasing interest in small modular reactors (SMRs). Capitalizing on the same processes used by nuclear plants on a smaller scale, SMRs 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 2018’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 2019.
1. Cameco (TSX:CCO,NYSE:CCJ)
2018 production: 9.2 million pounds uranium
Cameco is at the top of this list of largest uranium companies. It accounts for approximately 16 percent of global uranium production, and has mines in three countries. In the US it 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 and McArthur River/Key Lake, where it holds partial ownership. Additionally, Cameco has a 60 percent stake in a mine in Kazakhstan.
In 2018, the world’s leading uranium producer shuttered its McArthur River mine and Key Lake mill due to weak spot prices. The closure of the key uranium property reduced Cameco’s uranium supply dramatically from 23.8 million pounds in 2017 to 9.2 million pounds in 2018, down 61 percent.
Commenting on the company’s performance, President and CEO Tim Gitzel said, “In 2018, the temporary suspension of production at McArthur River/Key Lake, and the subsequent extension for an indeterminate duration, allowed us to preserve the value of our tier-one assets, drawdown our excess inventory under the protection of our contract portfolio, and build a significant cash balance, positioning the company to self-manage risk.”
Cameco first announced the suspension at the end of 2017, and in 2018 it said it plans to keep the operations offline “indefinitely.” It’s hoped the move will stoke uranium prices.
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. It is estimated to contain 128 million pounds of U3O8.
Cameco’s Cigar Lake joint venture project was the largest uranium-producing mine in 2018, accounting for 13 percent of global supply.
2. Rio Tinto (NYSE:RIO,ASX:RIO,LSE:RIO)
2018 production: 6.7 million pounds uranium
Rio Tinto was the second largest uranium producer in 2018, putting out 2 percent more uranium than it did in 2017. With output of 6.7 million pounds, the company met its production guidance for the year, which was between 6.5 million and 7.5 million pounds of uranium.
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 holds the Ranger mine, Australia’s longest continually operating producer of uranium.
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.
Rio’s Ranger mine contributed 3 percent of the world’s uranium last year.
3. BHP (NYSE:BHP,ASX:BHP,LSE:BHP)
2018 production: 7.4 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 it plans to invest AU$350 million in Olympic Dam, as well as the creation of 120 new jobs on site.
2018 was challenging for the diversified multinational miner due to a tailings dam collapse in Brazil.
“The collapse of the Brumadinho dam in Brazil is a tragedy and we offer our heartfelt sympathy to all those affected. At BHP, we are committed to learn from what happened, and as an industry we must redouble our efforts to make sure events like this cannot happen,” said CEO Andrew Mackenzie.
BHP’s largest-producing uranium mine is also located in Australia. Olympic Dam, one of the country’s most notable uranium projects, put out 6 percent of all uranium produced in 2018.
4. Energy Resources of Australia
2018 production: 4.4 million pounds uranium oxide
As mentioned, Energy Resources of Australia owns the Australia-based Ranger mine. While mining stopped at Ranger in 2012, the company is currently still producing material from stockpiled uranium ore. In 2017, Ranger produced a total of 5.1 million pounds of uranium; with Rio Tinto’s 3.5 million pound share of production removed, Energy Resources’ share comes in at about 1.6 million pounds.
According to the company’s latest annual report, Energy Resources is continuing rehabilitation of the project site and is working towards finalizing closure and revegetating the land. Ranger’s ore reserves currently stand at 5,783 tonnes, so the company may still be one of the largest uranium producers for a few years to come.
5. Paladin Energy (TSX:PDN,OTC Pink:PALAF)
2018 production: 2.7million pounds uranium
Paladin Energy’s flagship operation is the Langer Heinrich mine in Namibia, though it also owns a stake in the Kayelekera mine in Malawi. Kayelekera is on care and maintenance, and Paladin announced in May 2018 that it would begin the process of taking Langer Heinrich offline as well.
At the time, the company said Langer Heinrich would be able to return to production quickly once uranium prices improve.
The temporary closure of the flagship project reduced Paladin’s yearly output by 34 percent due to a 16 percent reduction in the amount of ore processed. The company decided in February to begin the process of bringing the Namibian mine back online.
According to a recent company update, Langer Heinrich is slated to to be production ready by mid-2021.
Other uranium-producing companies
Wondering which other companies produced uranium last year? Aside from the largest uranium producers, there are of course companies that produced smaller amounts. These smaller players include Energy Fuels (TSX:EFR,NYSEAMERICAN:UUUU), which put out 917,000 pounds of U3O8, and Ur-Energy (TSX:URE,NYSEAMERICAN:URG), whose 2018 U3O8 output came in at 302,000 pounds.
Straddling the Europe-Asia border, Kazatomprom and Uranium One are also among the largest uranium producers, but are not included on this list because they are privately owned.
Orano, formerly known as 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 performed well, reporting strong financials and debt reduction in its 2018 yearly report.
Is there a uranium-producing company you think should be included on this list? Let us know in the comments. And don’t forget to follow us @INN_Resource for real-time news updates!
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.