Largest Uranium-producing Countries

Georgia Williams — August 19, 2020

What are the largest uranium-producing countries? Kazakhstan tops the list, followed by Canada and Australia.

Nuclear Power Plant Cooling Towers

Production from the top uranium-producing countries has risen fairly steadily over the last decade or so, going from 41,282 tonnes in 2007 to 53,656 tonnes in 2019. Output of the energy fuel peaked during that period when it topped 62,638 tonnes in 2016.

The majority of the uranium mined around the world ends up as U3O8, a vital component of the atomic energy sector that is used to power nuclear reactors.

Currently 10 percent of the world’s electricity is generated by nuclear energy, and that number is expected to grow. Another by-product of mined ore is uranium oxide, which is used in glass, ceramics and for optic applications.

10 largest uranium-producing countries

Due to its significance in energy generation, it’s important to know where uranium is mined and which nations are the largest uranium-producing countries.

Kazakhstan is the leader by a long shot, and has been since 2009. It’s 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 2019’s largest uranium-producing countries. All statistics are from the World Nuclear Association’s most recent report on uranium mine production.

1. Kazakhstan

Mine production: 22,808 tonnes

As mentioned, Kazakhstan had the highest uranium production in the world in 2019. In fact, the country’s total output of 22,808 tonnes accounted for 43 percent of global uranium supply.

When last recorded in 2017, Kazakhstan had 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, the country’s national uranium-mining company, is the world’s largest uranium producer with a number of projects and partnerships in various jurisdictions.

2. Canada

Mine production: 6,938 tonnes

Canada was the world’s second largest uranium-producing country in 2019, accounting for 13 percent of global output at 6,938 tonnes of uranium. That was a decrease from the 7,001 tonnes it produced in 2018, and a significant decline from 2017’s 13,116 tonnes.

Saskatchewan’s Cigar Lake and McArthur River are considered the the world’s two top uranium mines. Both projects are operated by sector major Cameco (TSX:CCO,NYSE:CCJ).

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.

 

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3. Australia

Mine production: 6,613 tonnes

Australia’s uranium production rose in 2019 to 6,613 tonnes, up from 2018’s 6,517 tonnes. The island nation holds 29 percent of the world’s known recoverable uranium resources.

Uranium mining has been a contentious and often political issue in Australia. While the sector is heavily regulated, the future of the industry is often called into question. Recently, the Western Australia government decided to allow existing projects to go ahead, but was clear that no new domestic uranium-mining projects will be approved. This decision has left a number of companies in limbo.

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.

4. Namibia

Mine production: 5,476 tonnes

Namibia’s uranium production rose to 5,525 tonnes in 2018, but slipped slightly in 2019. Despite the small decline, production still topped 5,000 tonnes to come in at 5,476 tonnes.

The country is home to two uranium mines that are capable of producing 10 percent of the world’s output. Uranium miner Paladin Energy (TSX:PDN) owns the Langer Heinrich mine, and mining major Rio Tinto (NYSE:RIO,ASX:RIO,LSE:RIO) controls the majority of the Rössing mine.

In 2017, Paladin took Langer Heinrich offline due to weak uranium prices. In 2020, the uranium spot price began to rise, prompting the uranium miner to ramp up restart efforts.

5. Niger

Mine production: 2,983 tonnes

Niger’s uranium production increased slightly year-over-year, with output totaling 2,983 tonnes in 2019. The African nation has two uranium mines in production, SOMAIR and COMINAK, which account for 5.5 percent of the world’s uranium production.

Both projects are operated by subsidiaries of Orano, a private uranium miner with projects in top uranium-producing countries Kazakhstan and Canada.

Niger is also home to the flagship project of explorer GoviEx Uranium (TSXV:GXU,OTCQB:GVXXF). The uranium company is presently developing its Madaeouela asset, as well as projects in Zambia and Mali.

 

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6. Russia

Mine production: 2,911 tonnes

Russia was in sixth place in terms of uranium production in 2019. Output has been steady in the country since 2011, usually coming in near the 3,000 tonne range.

The top uranium-producing country is expected to increase its production in the coming years to meet its energy needs and growing uranium demand around the world. However, Russian uranium has been an area of controversy in recent years, with the US conducting a Section 232 investigation around the security of uranium imports from that region.

In terms of domestic uranium production, Rosatom, a subsidiary of ARMZ Uranium Holding, owns the country’s Priargunsky underground mine and is working on developing the Vershinnoye deposit in Southern Siberia through a subsidiary.

7. Uzbekistan

Mine production: 2,404 tonnes

In 2019, Uzbekistan produced an estimated 2,404 tonnes of uranium. Domestic uranium production has been locked at the 2,404 tonne per year level since 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 mining and processing of the domestic uranium supply. In April 2015, NMMC announced that the government had approved plans to implement 27 projects to modernize its production facilities by 2019.

8. China

Mine production: 1,885 tonnes

China’s uranium production increased in 2017, reaching 1,885 tonnes; it has held steady there ever since.

China General Nuclear Power, the country’s sole domestic uranium supplier, is looking to expand nuclear fuel supply deals with Kazakhstan and additional foreign uranium companies.

China’s goal is to supply one-third of its nuclear fuel cycle with uranium from domestic producers, obtain one-third through foreign equity in mines and joint ventures overseas and purchase one-third on the open uranium market. China is also leading the way in nuclear energy generation; mainland China has 45 nuclear reactors with an additional 15 in construction.

 

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9. Ukraine

Mine production: 801 tonnes

After more than doubling in 2018 to 1,180 tonnes, uranium production in Ukraine dropped off dramatically from 1,005 tonnes in 2016 to 550 tonnes in 2017. Ukraine, one of the largest uranium-producing countries, is heavily dependent on nuclear power, and has 15 reactors that meet about half of the country’s electricity requirements. Most of its needs are meet through Russian uranium.

In 2016, Ukraine’s minister for coal and energy reached an agreement with Kazatomprom to establish a uranium joint venture. Ukraine holds just 2 percent of the world’s known uranium reserves; in comparison, neighboring Russia accounts for 9 percent of the world’s uranium reserves.

The lower production numbers may be the result of the persistently low spot price the uranium market has experienced over the last seven years. While prices have begun to strengthen in 2020, they are still well off the US$50 per pound analysts say is needed to get major companies ramping up production and bring juniors back into uranium exploration.

10. South Africa

Mine production: 346 tonnes

Rounding out the list is South Africa, which produced 346 tonnes of the energy fuel in 2019. This is the second consecutive year its tally has topped 340 tonnes. Unlike top producers Kazakhstan and Canada, uranium production in South Africa is largely a by-product of gold and copper mining.

According to the World Nuclear Association, there are roughly 400 gold tailings dams and dumps arising from gold mining in the Witwatersrand area, where much of the country’s available uranium derives.

South Africa, which is one of the top uranium-producing countries, currently has two reactors, and each nuclear plant provides 900 megawatts of electricity (MWe) annually.

In May 2020, South Africa’s Department of Mineral Resources and Energy announced efforts to build a nuclear energy roadmap with the end goal being the addition of 2,500 MWe of new nuclear capacity.

The African nation disclosed it is considering an array of options, including small modular reactors.

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Securities Disclosure: I, Georgia Williams, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.

 

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