Uranium is a common element, found in the Earth’s crust in concentrations ranging from upwards of 20 per cent uranium or 200,000 parts per million (ppm) in very high-grade ore such as that found in Canada’s Athabasca Basin, to 0.01% (100 ppmU) in very low grade ore such as that found in Namibia and 0.003 ppmU found in seawater.
In total, world production of conventional resources of uranium from 1945 to 2016 is estimated at 3 million tonnes of uranium (tU) across more than thirty countries with Canada (510,593 tU) topping the list, followed by the United States (376,132 tU), Kazakhstan (293,560 tU), Germany (219,686 tU) and Australia (206,575 tU). The top fifteen all-time producers are charted below.

Although Germany is the fourth largest all-time producing country, its figures are historical and based entirely on one mine: the Wismut uranium mining company which was set up in East Germany by the Soviets in 1947. Production stopped after the reunification of Germany in 1990. The mine produced a total of 216,000 tU over its lifetime, making it the world’s largest uranium mine of all time. Wismut GmbH was created in 1991, with the Federal Republic of Germany as the sole owner. Its purpose has been to decommission the world’s largest producing mine and its processing facilities and to rehabilitate the sites. Germany has committed 6.2 billion EUR to the remediation, making it the single biggest mining rehabilitation effort in the world.
Most Soviet uranium production was located in Ukraine and Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) with annual production peaking at 16,00 – 16,500 tU in 1985-1986. After the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia inherited about 70 per cent of the installed nuclear power generation capacity while the newly independent republics were left in control of more than 80 per cent of the Soviet Union’s uranium mining assets. Of the seven Soviet uranium mining centers at the time, only one was located in Russia proper.
The way the world produces and consumes uranium is changing. The uranium industry is complex: It is in a state of constant flux, reshaping itself in response to increased competition, globalization, nuclear accidents, non-proliferation and geopolitical concerns. The industry is multinational with a confluence of public and private interests at stake. Frequently, these commercial, economic, and strategic interests overlap or collide.
Excess supply keeps prices low, placing a strain on efforts to bring new mines online in new producer nations such as Malawi and potentially Tanzania and Greenland. Meanwhile, consumption is expected to continue growing in ChinaIndia, and Russia which may create the type of demand needed to balance the current oversupply and raise prices to the point where production is more profitable.

THE URANIUM MARKET IS SHIFTING. From a high of US$135 per pound in 2007, the spot price for uranium dropped to US$30 per pound of U3O8 in 2014, and dropped even further to US$20 per pound of U3O8 in August 2017. Not surprisingly, several mining projects were put on hold in both traditional producer nations such as Canada and Australia as well as newer ones, such as Malawi. At the same time, some lower cost producers are expanding such as Cigar Lake in Canada and the Husab Project in Namibia. The oversupply could last at least another seven years according to one estimate. Low prices led to shutting down production at a mine in Malawi in February 2014 after less than a half dozen years in operation.

THE GEOGRAPHIES AND PATTERNS OF URANIUM PRODUCTION AND CONSUMPTION ARE ALSO SHIFTING. New producers are entering the scene as traditional consumers are buying less. Right now, states in the European Union (EU) and North America currently consume almost two-thirds of the global uranium output; however, this will change soon as nuclear power projects expand primarily in Asia and Eastern Europe.

China’s consumption levels suggest it is on track to replace the United States as the world’s largest uranium consumer, although the exact date when that will happen is unclear. China’s expansion of nuclear energy also means expansion of its uranium mining interests into Africa, opening up competition in countries that had previously been monopolized.

Meanwhile, India’s exemption from the Nuclear Suppliers Group restrictions on non-NPT parties adds a very large, new customer. Against this growth, traditional consumers such as Germany and Japan are cutting their usage.
Kazakhstan surpassed Canada in 2009 to become the world’s largest uranium producer. Since 2012, Kazakhstan has been producing over 20,000 tU annually, more than the production of Canada and Australia (the second and third largest producers) combined. In January 2017, Kazatomprom, the state-owned uranium company, said that it would cut production by 2,000 tU due to poor market conditions. This is a shift for the company that just a few years prior had plans to increase production to 37,000 tU by 2017.