Which country had the highest uranium production in the world in 2017? Kazakhstan topped the list, followed by Canada and Australia.
Uranium production has risen fairly steadily over the last decade, going from 41,282 tonnes in 2007 to 59,531 tonnes in 2017. Its peak during that 10 year period was 62,638 tonnes in 2016.
The majority of the uranium mined around the world is used to make U3O8, which is used in the atomic energy sector to power nuclear reactors. Uranium oxide is also produced by the mining industry and is used in glass, ceramic and optic applications.
But which countries produced the most uranium in 2017? Kazakhstan was the leader by a long shot, and has been since 2009. It was followed by Canada and Australia in second and third place, respectively, with other countries around the world producing smaller amounts.
For investors interested in following the uranium space as it heats up, having a grasp on these top players is essential. Read on to get a closer look at 2017’s top uranium producers by country. All statistics are from the World Nuclear Association’s most recent report on uranium mine production.
Mine production: 23,321 tonnes
As mentioned, Kazakhstan had the highest uranium production in the world in 2017. In fact, the country’s total output of 23,321 tonnes accounted for 39 percent of global uranium supply.
Kazakhstan has 745,300 tonnes of known recoverable uranium resources, second only to Australia. Most of the uranium in the country is mined via an in-situ leaching process. Kazataprom (FWB:0ZQ) is the country’s largest uranium producer and is one of the biggest uranium mining companies in the sector.
Mine production: 13,116 tonnes
Canada had the second highest uranium production in the world in 2017, accounting for 22 percent of global output at 13,116 tonnes of uranium. This was a decrease from the 14,039 tonnes it produced in 2016. Cigar Lake and McArthur River, the world’s two top uranium mines, are located in Northern Saskatchewan, and Cameco (TSX:CCO,NYSE:CCJ) has majority ownership of both of them. By comparison, Kazakhstan is home to seven large uranium mines.
Uranium exploration is also very prevalent in Canada, with the majority occurring in the uranium-dense Athabasca Basin. That particular area of Saskatchewan is world renowned for its high-quality uranium deposits and friendly mining attitude.
The province’s long history with the uranium mining industry has helped Saskatchewan assert itself as an international leader in the uranium sector.
Mine production: 5,882 tonnes
Australia’s uranium production fell from 6,315 tonnes in 2016 to 5,882 tonnes in 2017. The country holds 29 percent of the world’s known recoverable uranium resources. At the moment there are some doubts about uranium mining in Western Australia — the current government announced in 2017 that no new uranium projects will be approved, leaving a number of companies in limbo; existing projects have been allowed to continue on.
Australia is home to Olympic Dam, the largest known single deposit of uranium in the world. While the country does permit some uranium mining activity, it is opposed to using nuclear energy. During his 2019 re-election campaign, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told a radio station he is not totally opposed to looking at nuclear energy to power the country. The statement instantly brought media scrutiny and Morrison’s opponent latched onto the idea that the prime minister was considering atomic energy.
Mine production: 4,224 tonnes
Namibia’s uranium production rose to 4,224 tonnes in 2017 from 3,654 tonnes in 2016. 2017 was the second year in a row that the country’s output had risen since 2013; however, production was still a bit lower than 2013’s 4,323 tonnes.
The country has two uranium mines that are capable of producing 10 percent of the world’s output. The two mines are Paladin Energy’s (TSX:PDN) Langer Heinrich mine and Rio Tinto’s (NYSE:RIO,ASX:RIO,LSE:RIO) majority owned Rössing mine.
However, it’s worth noting that Paladin took Langer Heinrich offline in May 2017, and is now taking the necessary steps to restart the mining and milling process at the site.
Mine production: 3,449 tonnes
Niger’s uranium production decreased slightly in 2017, falling to 3,449 tonnes from 3,479 tonnes in 2016. The country has two uranium mines in production, and they account for 7 percent of uranium production in the world. The larger of the two mines is an open-pit mining project operated by AREVA (EPA:AREVA) subsidiary SOMAIR. Areva holds a stake in the other mine as well.
Mine production: 2,917 tonnes
Russia was in sixth place in terms of uranium production in 2017. Its 2016 output was 3,004 tonnes, while in 2017 its production came in at 2,917 tonnes. Despite the decrease, the overall trend is relatively steady considering 2,990 tonnes were produced dating back to 2014.
The country is expected to increase its production in the coming years to meet its energy needs and the growing uranium demand around the world. Rosatom subsidiary ARMZ Uranium Holding owns the operating Priargunsky underground mine in Russia, and is working on developing the Vershinnoye deposit in Southern Siberia through a subsidiary. Production via in-situ leaching started in late 2018.
Mine production: 2,404 tonnes
In 2017, Uzbekistan produced an estimated 2,404 tonnes of uranium, the same amount as in 2016. Although the country is seventh in terms of global uranium output, it is expanding production via Japanese and Chinese joint ventures.
Navoi Mining & Metallurgy Combinat (NMMC) is part of state holding company Kyzylkumredmetzoloto, and handles all the country’s uranium mining and processing activities. In April 2015, NMMC announced that the government had approved plans to implement 27 projects to modernize its production facilities by 2019. Uzbekistan had two research reactors at one point; however, one was decommissioned and the other was restarted in July 2017.
Mine production: 1,885 tonnes
China’s uranium production increased in 2017, reaching 1,885 tonnes compared to 1,616 tonnes the previous year.
China General Nuclear Power, the country’s sole domestic uranium supplier, is looking to expand nuclear fuel supply deals with Kazakhstan and additional overseas uranium producers.
China’s goal is to produce one-third of its uranium domestically, obtain one-third through foreign equity in mines and joint ventures overseas and purchase one-third on the open market. China is also leading the way in nuclear energy generation; mainland China has 45 nuclear power reactors with an additional 15 in construction.
9. United States
Mine production: 940 tonnes
Uranium mining in the US dropped for a third consecutive year in 2017. Production went down to 940 tonnes in 2017 from 1,125 tonnes in 2016.
Uranium mining in the US is currently performed by a only a few companies, although there are a number of uranium exploration firms that have a presence in both the US and Canada. The White Mesa mine in Utah is fed by four or five underground mines and several in-situ leach operations, covering all US uranium production.
At one point, the US was the leader in uranium production with the majority of the country’s mined uranium coming from areas near the Grand Canyon and Colorado Plateau. However, concerns over radioactive materials and tailings have restricted the growth of the sector.
There is speculation that US President Donald Trump may continue to try and lift an Obama-era uranium mining ban on the Grand Canyon as part of his Critical Metals and Materials initiative, which is aimed at getting more domestic production of key resources and minerals.
Mine production: 550 tonnes
Uranium production in Ukraine dropped off dramatically from 1,005 tonnes in 2016 to 550 tonnes in 2017. Ukraine is heavily dependent on nuclear power, and has 15 reactors that meet about half of the country’s electricity requirements. Most of its uranium is supplied by Russia.
In 2016, Ukraine’s minister for coal and energy reached an agreement with Russia’s Kazatomprom to establish a uranium joint venture. Ukraine holds just 2 percent of the world’s known recoverable resources of uranium. In comparison, Russia holds 9 percent of known uranium reserves.
Lower production numbers may be the result of a decrease in the price of uranium. While the spot price recovered a bit in 2018, it is well off the US$50 per pound analysts say is needed to get major companies ramping up production and juniors back into uranium exploration.
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Securities Disclosure: I, Georgia Williams, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.