Cigar Lake was the largest producer of uranium in 2020. But what are the other top uranium mines? Find out here.
In 2020, world uranium mine production came to 56,287 tonnes of U3O8. Kazakhstan was the top-producing country by far at 19,477 tonnes, followed by Australia and Namibia.
Together, those three nations accounted for over two-thirds of uranium mining, with Kazakhstan taking a 41 percent share. Additionally, a wide variety of uranium-mining companies contribute to the world's production.
To give investors a better idea of where the top uranium mines are located and where the nuclear fuel comes from, the Investing News Network has 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
2020 production: 3,885 tonnes
Northern Saskatchewan-based Cigar Lake is number one on this list of the world's top uranium mines. 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.
Throughout 2020, operations were halted and started only to be halted again by a series of coronavirus outbreaks. Cameco restarted uranium production in April 2021 only to have to again close up shop temporarily in July 2021 as fires in the region led to evacuations.
Cigar Lake was commissioned in 2014 and began commercial uranium production in May 2015. It accounted for 8 percent of global uranium output in 2020. Orano (37.1 percent), Idemitsu Uranium Exploration Canada (7.875 percent) and TEPCO Resources (5 percent) also hold stakes in the mine.
2020 production: 3,302 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 2020, the operation accounted for 7 percent of global uranium production.
3. Olympic Dam
2020 production: 3,062 tonnes
Next up on this list of top uranium mines is the Olympic Dam mine, which is owned by BHP (ASX:BHP,NYSE:BHP,LSE:BHP). The mine produces copper, along with uranium, gold and silver. Olympic Dam, which has underground and surface operations, plus a fully integrated processing facility, has been in action since 1988, and in 2020 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 2020 the country was the world's second largest producer behind Kazakhstan.
4. Inkai, sites 1 to 3
2020 production: 2,693 tonnes
The in situ recovery Inkai uranium mine is a joint venture between Cameco (40 percent) and uranium miner Kazatomprom (LSE:KAP) (60 percent). Inkai accounted for 6 percent of the world's uranium output in 2020.
Kazatomprom's operations have been impacted by COVID-19, with the company announcing in early April 2020 that it would be reducing operational activities at all of its mines in Kazakhstan for several months. In August, the company resumed operations, but said its planned production levels through 2022 would decrease by 20 percent.
5. Karatua (Budenovskoye 2)
2020 production: 2,460 tonnes
The in situ recovery Budenovskoye 2 operation, located in Kazakhstan at the Karatau mine, produced 5 percent of the world's uranium in 2020. The Karatau mine is owned by the Karatau joint venture, 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.
2020 production: 2,111 tonnes
The Namibia-based Rössing uranium mine was responsible for 4 percent of the world's production in 2020. 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 Rössing 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 Rössing to China National Uranium.
Aside from China National Uranium, a number of companies have interests in Rössing. The Namibian government has 3 percent, the Iranian Foreign Investment Company has 15 percent, the Industrial Development Corporation of South Africa owns 10 percent and individual shareholders own the rest.
2020 production: 1,879 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 2020.
8. Four Mile
2020 production: 1,806 tonnes
Quasar Resources' Four Mile in situ leach operation is the second top uranium mine in Australia. The high-grade, roll-front deposit was discovered in 2005 about 8 kilometers from the formerly producing Beverly uranium mine. Construction of the mine began in December 2013, followed by commercial production in June 2014.
Four Mile produced 4 percent of the world's production for uranium in 2020. The deposit is also prospective for iron-oxide copper-gold mineralization.
9. South Inkai (Block 4)
2020 production: 1,509 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 it accounted for 3 percent of the world's uranium production in 2020.
10. Kharasan 1
2020 production: 1,455 tonnes
Kharasan is an in situ leach operation in the Syr Darya basin of the Kyzylorda region in Kazakhstan. The uranium mine is owned by Kazatomprom (33.98 percent) and Uranium One (30 percent). A consortium of Japanese utilities and a trading company hold the remainder.
Commercial production at Kharasan began in 2013, and in 2020 the operation accounted for 3 percent of the world's uranium production.
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Securities Disclosure: I, Melissa Pistilli, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.