Uranium is an important metal in the energy sector. Here the Investing News Network looks at the five top uranium countries by reserves.
Uranium is an important commodity in the energy sector, and knowing the countries with the top reserves is key. Mined uranium resources have provided fuel for nuclear power generation for more than 60 years, and today nuclear power serves 10 percent of global energy needs.
Global uranium demand is anticipated to grow in the coming years, which bodes well for future uranium prices. According to the World Nuclear Association (WNA), more than 50 nuclear reactors are under construction worldwide, and significant increases to capacity at existing plants are also planned.
Global uranium production totaled 53,656 tonnes of U3O8 in 2019, the latest year for which numbers are available. The five top uranium-producing countries in the world are Kazakhstan, Canada, Australia, Namibia and Niger, and they were responsible for the vast majority of that production.
But what are the top uranium countries by reserves? Here the Investing News Network provides an overview of the five countries with the largest uranium resources, with data sourced from the WNA.
Uranium resources: 1,692,700 tonnes (28 percent of world uranium resources)
While Australia ranks third in global uranium production, behind Kazakhstan and Canada, it takes the crown for the world’s largest uranium resources. Australia’s crown jewel is Olympic Dam, the largest-known single deposit of uranium in the world. Other major uranium deposits in country include Ranger, Beverley and Four Mile. Production at the Ranger uranium mine, owned by Energy Resources of Australia (ASX:ERA,OTC Pink:EGRAF), is expected to come to a halt in 2021 due to low uranium prices.
The discrepancy between Australia’s uranium production and mineable resources is perhaps due in part to the current low price environment, but contentious political issues surrounding uranium mining in the country are also worth noting. For example, in recent years the Western Australian government has put the brakes on any new domestic uranium-mining project approvals, although it has allowed existing projects to go ahead. In addition, while limited uranium-mining activity is allowed in Australia, the federal government is opposed to nuclear energy.
Uranium resources: 906,800 tonnes (15 percent of world uranium resources)
Home to nearly half of aboveground global uranium supply, Kazakhstan ranks first in world uranium production; its national uranium-mining company, Kazatomprom, is the world’s largest uranium producer. However, the Central Asian nation comes in second in terms of largest uranium resources.
Kazakhstan has no national electricity grid, and at least 69 percent of its electricity production comes from coal, with the remainder supplied by natural gas (19 percent), hydro (11 percent) and wind (1 percent). However, the Kazakhstan government’s energy development plan details changes to the energy mix that would include 4.5 percent of electricity generation from nuclear power and 10 percent from renewable energy by 2030. Kazakhstan has two proposed and planned nuclear power plants.
Uranium resources: 564,900 tonnes (9 percent of world uranium resources)
The second largest uranium producer, Canada is third largest in terms of top uranium countries by reserves. The North American nation is home to the world’s two top uranium mines: Cameco’s (TSX:CCO,NYSE:CCJ) Cigar Lake and McArthur River. Together, they make the province of Saskatchewan an international leader in the uranium sector. Saskatchewan’s Athabasca Basin is a hotbed for uranium exploration and is known the world over for the highest-grade uranium deposits on the planet.
Nuclear energy accounts for about 15 percent of Canada’s electricity demand. The country’s nuclear power infrastructure includes five power plants and 22 nuclear power reactors. As the second largest country by landmass, providing reliable energy to Canada’s many remote regions poses a significant challenge. However, novel reactor technologies such as small modular reactors have the potential to supply power to smaller electrical grids or to remote, off-grid areas.
Uranium resources: 486,000 tonnes (8 percent of world uranium resources)
As the largest country by landmass, Russia has a wealth of mineral resources, including 8 percent of the world’s known uranium. The majority of Russia’s domestic uranium production comes by way of Rosatom, a subsidiary of ARMZ Uranium Holding, which owns the Priargunsky underground mine and is developing the Vershinnoye deposit in Southern Siberia.
To meet the nation’s growing energy needs, Russia’s government is keen on using its uranium resources to increase its uranium output in the coming years. According to the WNA, nuclear energy accounts for 18 percent of Russia’s energy mix. Currently, the country has 38 nuclear reactors generating 28,578 megawatts electric, with an additional 21 units planned and 23 units proposed.
Uranium resources: 448,300 tonnes (7 percent of world uranium resources)
The world’s fourth largest uranium-producing country, Namibia comes in fifth for top uranium countries by reserves. The African nation’s Langer Heinrich mine, owned by Paladin Energy (ASX:PDN,OTC Pink:PALAF), and Rössing mine, majority owned by Rio Tinto (NYSE:RIO,ASX:RIO,LSE:RIO), are capable of producing 10 percent of the world’s uranium output. Significant Namibian deposits also include Trekkopje, near Rössing and owned by Orano (formerly Areva), and the world-class Husab uranium mine.
The Namibian government is in favor of expanding the country’s uranium-mining industry. While there are no nuclear power plants in Namibia, there is some support for a national nuclear power industry.
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Securities Disclosure: I, Melissa Pistilli, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.