Output from the top uranium-producing countries rose steadily for a decade, peaking at 63,207 metric tons (MT) in 2016. However, global uranium production has noticeably declined in the years since then.
Decreased production numbers across the world are related to the persistently low spot prices the uranium market has experienced in the wake of the Fukushima disaster; COVID-19 also had an impact on global uranium output.
Now uranium prices have begun to rebound, buoyed by increasingly positive sentiment about the role of nuclear power in the energy transition — currently 10 percent of the world’s electricity is generated by nuclear energy, and that number is expected to grow. Supply concerns caused by Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine have also had an impact.
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. Last year, it was followed by Canada and Namibia in second and third place, respectively.
For investors interested in following the uranium space, having familiarity with these uranium production hotspots is essential. Read on to get a closer look at 2022’s largest uranium-producing countries. All statistics are from the World Nuclear Association’s most recent report on uranium mine production.
Mine production: 21,227 MT
As mentioned, Kazakhstan had the highest uranium production in the world in 2022. In fact, the country’s total output of 21,227 MT accounted for 43 percent of global uranium supply.
When last recorded in 2021, Kazakhstan had 815,200 MT 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 (LSE:KAP), the country’s national uranium-mining company, is the world’s largest uranium producer with projects and partnerships in various jurisdictions.
Mine production: 7,351 MT
Canada’s uranium output has fallen dramatically since hitting a peak of 14,039 MT in 2016. After producing 6,938 MT of yellowcake in 2019, Canadian uranium production sank to 3,885 MT in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic led to operational shutdowns. However, in 2022 uranium production in the country began to rebound.
Saskatchewan’s Cigar Lake and McArthur River are considered 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 area of Saskatchewan is world renowned for its high-quality uranium deposits and friendly mining attitude. The province’s long history with the uranium industry has helped Saskatchewan assert itself as an international leader in the uranium sector.
Mine production: 5,613 MT
Namibia’s uranium production has been steadily increasing after falling to a low of 2,993 MT in 2015. In fact, the African nation overtook longtime frontrunner Canada to become the third largest uranium-producing country in 2020, and surpassed Australia for the second top spot in 2021. Although Namibia slipped back below Canada in 2022, its output for the year was only down by 140 MT from 2021.
The country is home to two uranium mines that are capable of producing 10 percent of the world’s output. Paladin Energy (ASX:PDN,OTCQX:PALAF) owns the Langer Heinrich mine, while large miner Rio Tinto (NYSE:RIO,ASX:RIO,LSE:RIO) sold its majority share of the Rössing mine to China National Uranium in 2019.
In 2017, Paladin took Langer Heinrich offline due to weak uranium prices. Improved uranium spot prices in the past few years has prompted the uranium miner to ramp up restart efforts. The company plans to have the mine back up and running in Q1 2024.
Mine production: 4,087 MT
Australia’s uranium production decreased significantly in 2021 to 4,192 MT, down from 2020’s 6,203 MT; it fell further in 2022 to hit 4,087 MT. The island nation holds 28 percent of the world’s known recoverable uranium resources.
Uranium mining is a contentious and often political issue in Australia. While the country permits some uranium-mining activity, it is opposed to using nuclear energy — at least for now. ‘Australia uses no nuclear power, but with high reliance on coal any likely carbon constraints on electricity generation will make it a strong possibility,” according to the World Nuclear Association. “Australia has a significant infrastructure to support any future nuclear power program.”
Australia is home to Olympic Dam, the largest-known deposit of uranium in the world, but as mentioned not all parts of the country are open to uranium mining. For example, in 2017, the Western Australian 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.
Mine production: 3,300 MT
In 2020, with an estimated 3,500 MT of output, Uzbekistan became one of the top five uranium-producing countries. Domestic uranium production had been gradually increasing in the Central Asian nation since 2016. Previously seventh in terms of global uranium output, it is expanding production via Japanese and Chinese joint ventures. However, for 2022, the country’s uranium output was down by 200 MT to 3,300 MT.
Navoi Mining & Metallurgy Combinat is part of state holding company Kyzylkumredmetzoloto, and handles all the mining and processing of domestic uranium supply.
Mine production: 2,508 MT
Russia was in sixth place in terms of uranium production in 2022. Output has been steady in the country since 2011, usually coming in around the 2,800 to 3,000 MT range.
Experts had been expecting the country to increase its production in the coming years to meet its energy needs, as well as growing uranium demand around the world. However, Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine and the resulting sanctions placed on its economy may impact that outlook. In 2021, uranium production in the country dropped by 211 MT from the previous year to 2,635 MT; it fell further by another 127 MT to reach 2,508 MT in 2022.
Beyond that, 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 production, Rosatom, a subsidiary of ARMZ Uranium Holding, owns the country’s Priargunsky mine and is working on developing the Vershinnoye deposit in Southern Siberia through a subsidiary.
Mine production: 2,020 MT
Niger’s uranium production has declined year-on-year over the past decade, with output totaling 2,020 MT in 2022. The African nation has two uranium mines in production, SOMAIR and COMINAK, which account for 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.
The recent military coup in the African nation has sparked uranium supply concerns, as Niger accounts for 15 percent of France’s uranium needs and one-fifth of EU imports. However, uranium companies in Niger, including Orano, GoviEx and Global Atomic (TSX:GLO,OTCQX:GLATF), have informed investors that their operations remain secure and are moving forward as planned.
Mine production: 1,700 MT
China’s uranium production rose from 885 MT in 2011 to 1,885 MT in 2018, and held steady at that level until falling to 1,600 MT in 2021. The country’s uranium output grew by 100 MT to hit 1,700 MT in 2022. 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 a leader in nuclear energy; Mainland China has 55 nuclear reactors with 23 in construction.
Mine production: 600 MT
India produced 600 MT of uranium in 2022, on par with output in 2021. The country’s output of the energy fuel had held steady between 300 and 420 MT over the past decade.
India currently has 22 operating nuclear reactors with another eight under construction. “The Indian government is committed to growing its nuclear power capacity as part of its massive infrastructure development programme,” as per the World Nuclear Association. “The government has set ambitious targets to grow nuclear capacity.”
10. South Africa
Mine production: 200 MT
South Africa is another uranium-producing country that has seen its output decline over the past decade — the nation’s uranium output peaked at 573 MT in 2014. Nonetheless, South Africa surpassed Ukraine’s production (curbed by Russia’s invasion) in 2022 to become the 10th top uranium producer.
South Africa holds 5 percent of the world’s known uranium resources, taking the sixth spot on that list.
Securities Disclosure: I, Melissa Pistilli, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.