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), around 60 nuclear reactors are under construction worldwide, and significant increases to capacity at existing plants are also planned.
Global uranium production totaled 57,651 metric tons (MT) of U3O8 in 2022, the latest year for which numbers are available. The five top uranium-producing countries in the world are Kazakhstan, Canada, Namibia, Australia and Uzbekistan, and they were responsible for the vast majority of that production.
Uranium resources: 1,684,100 MT (28 percent of world uranium resources)
While Australia ranks fourth in global uranium production, it takes the lead 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 the country include Ranger, Beverley and Four Mile. However, production at Ranger, owned by Energy Resources of Australia (ASX:ERA,OTC Pink:EGRAF), was brought to a halt in early 2021.
Australia is key to the global uranium industry, but mining the material is politically contentious in the country. For example, the Western Australian government has put the brakes on any new domestic uranium-mining project approvals, although it is allowing existing projects to go ahead. In addition, the federal government is opposed to nuclear energy. However, the WNA sees the potential for an about-face. ‘Australia uses no nuclear power, but with high reliance on coal any likely carbon constraints on electricity generation will make it a strong possibility,” the agency states. “Australia has a significant infrastructure to support any future nuclear power program.”
Uranium resources: 815,200 MT (13 percent of world uranium resources)
Kazakhstan comes in second in terms of uranium resources, but ranks first in uranium production — the country’s national uranium-mining company, Kazatomprom (LSE:KAP,OTC Pink:NATKY), is the world’s largest uranium producer.
At least 67 percent of Kazakhstan’s electricity production comes from coal, with the remainder supplied by natural gas (22 percent), hydro (9 percent) and solar and wind (1.5 percent). However, the country’s energy development plan details changes to the 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: 588,500 MT (10 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 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, although in recent years these operations have spent time offline. Saskatchewan’s Athabasca Basin is a hotbed for uranium exploration and is known the world over for having the highest-grade uranium deposits on the planet.
Nuclear energy accounts for about 15 percent of Canada’s electricity demand, and its nuclear power infrastructure includes 19 nuclear 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: 480,900 MT (8 percent of world uranium resources)
As the largest country by landmass, Russia has a wealth of resources, including 8 percent of the world’s uranium. The majority of Russia’s domestic uranium output comes via 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 increasing its uranium output. According to the WNA, nuclear energy accounted for 19 percent of Russia’s energy mix as of December 2021, the most up-to-date data available. The country has 37 nuclear reactors generating 27,727 megawatts of electricity, with an additional three units under construction.
Russia is among the world’s top 10 uranium producers in addition to holding significant reserves, and the country’s war with Ukraine had raised questions about the extent to which Russia will be able to continue exports. However, European countries such as France are still importing Russian uranium.
Uranium resources: 470,100 MT (8 percent of world uranium resources)
The world’s third 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 China National Uranium Corporation, are capable of producing 10 percent of the world’s uranium output. Significant Namibian deposits also include Trekkopje, which is near Rössing and owned by Orano, 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.
Securities Disclosure: I, Melissa Pistilli, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.