Global mined uranium amounted to 53,656 tonnes in 2019. Kazakhstan is the largest uranium producing country. Mined uranium now covers only 79% of its requirements.
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted global uranium production adding to the supply curtailments that have occurred in the industry for many years.
In March, Cameco Corporation and Orano Canada announced the temporary suspension of the Cigar Lake uranium mine and McClean Lake mill in northern Saskatchewan, Canada.
Kazatomprom, the largest uranium producer, announced in April it was reducing operational activities at its uranium mines in Kazakhstan for about three months.
The duration and extent of these disruptions are still unknown.
The shutdowns wiped out about 46 million pounds, or about 35%, of annual global uranium output, over three weeks.
The uranium market has started to respond.While most commodities are getting hammered by the coronavirus crisis, uranium prices are skyrocketing. The radioactive metal used in nuclear fuel has climbed 31% this year, making it the world’s best-performing major commodity.
UxC estimates that cumulative uncovered requirements are about 1.5 billion pounds to the end of 2035. The longer the recovery of the long-term market is delayed, the less certainty there will be about the availability of future supply to fill growing demand.
In fact, recent data from the US Energy Information Administration shows that utility inventories are starting to decline and are approaching levels that could put security of supply at risk.
With that in mind, Mines and Metals looked at the world’s global uranium production by country.
In 2019, the world’s total uranium production amounted to 53,656 tonnes, a minor 0.3% increase over 2018 (53,498 tonnes). This is one of the lowest levels for over the decade.
Last year, mined uranium covered only 79% of its global demand, – the lowest level recorded in the last ten years.
With 22,808 tonnes of uranium produced in 2019, Kazakhstan was the largest uranium producing country worldwide responsible for 43% of world primary uranium supply.
Kazakhstan was followed by Canada (6,938 tonnes) and Australia (6,613 tonnes).
Over two-thirds of the world’s production of uranium from mines is from Kazakhstan, Canada and Australia.
Uranium production in the US was down by a whopping 89%. In 2019, uranium mines in the US produced just 67 tonnes of uranium, ahead only of Pakistan (45 tonnes).
Uranium production in 2019 by country. Source: Mines and Metals, based on WNA data.
|2019 U production, t||2018 U production, t||% change|
Mining methods have been changing. In 1990, 55% of world production came from underground mines, but this shrunk dramatically to 1999, with 33% then. From 2000 the new Canadian mines increased it again. In situ leach (ISL, also called in situ recovery, ISR) mining has been steadily increasing its share of the total, mainly due to Kazakhstan, and in 2019 accounted for over half of production:
|In situ leach (ISL)||30,339||57%|
|Underground & open pit (except Olympic Dam)||19,607||36%|
Conventional mines have a mill where the ore is crushed, ground and then leached with sulfuric acid to dissolve the uranium oxides. At the mill of a conventional mine, or the treatment plant of an ISL operation, the uranium then separated by ion exchange before being dried and packed, usually as U3O8. Some mills and ISL operations (especially in the USA) use carbonate leaching instead of sulfuric acid, depending on the orebody.
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