Uranium Demand Grows as Nuclear Power Returns to Global Spotlight
Geopolitical turmoil and the aggressive push for carbon-free energy have put a global spotlight on uranium, a key element in the production of nuclear energy. The U.S., China and other nations are looking to nuclear as a possible alternative to fossil fuel-based energy. And the market is looking increasingly favorable for producers: Russia's invasion of Ukraine, a major global producer of uranium, has lifted prices for yellowcake (uranium in concentrate powder) exponentially over the past year. Industrial Info is tracking about US$17 billion worth of active projects worldwide for the mining or leaching of uranium, more than US$9.5 billion, or 56%, of which is found in the U.S. or Canada.
The rising interest in uranium production is particularly strong in Europe, where the U.K. and other countries are looking to nuclear as a replacement for Russian-sourced natural gas. The U.K. plans to build one new nuclear plant every year to cover about 25% of its electricity demand, according to Mining.com, while France, which already uses nuclear for about 70% of its electricity needs, has committed to install 14 new plants in the coming years.
The U.S. has signaled a renewed interest in domestic uranium production, as imports currently account for about 95% of its uranium inventories. Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic, accounted for 35% of U.S. imports last year, followed by Canada and Australia, with about 15% each. Kazakhstan also is one of the largest suppliers of uranium to Europe. For more information, see July 28, 2022, article - Uranium -- Yet Another Commodity in Crisis.
Kazatomprom JSC, which is Kazakhstan's national operator for uranium exports and imports, recently announced it was increasing its production targets to between 25,000 and 25,500 tons in 2024, an increase of 2,000-3,000 tons from its estimates for 2023. This marks a reversal following years of supply curtailments, pointing to sustained market confidence in uranium's future applications. But it also indicates that the U.S. and other countries likely will depend on Kazakhstan and its fellow uranium exporters for the foreseeable future.
Subscribers to Industrial Info's Global Market Intelligence (GMI) Metals & Minerals Project Database can click here for a list of active uranium projects from Kazatomprom, and click here for a list of operational, uranium-related Kazatomprom plants.
Canada accounts for nearly half of all active global investments in uranium mining or leaching projects, according to the GMI database. UEX Corporation (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan), one of the largest Canadian developers of uranium, recently was acquired in its entirety by Uranium Energy Corporation (NYSE:UEC) (UEC) (Corpus Christi, Texas), which also operates in the U.S. Southwest and Paraguay. The deal is expected to create the largest uranium-focused company in North America.
UEX operates mainly in northern Saskatchewan's Athabasca Basin, one of the world's richest uranium regions, which accounted for more than 8% of the world's primary uranium production in 2020. UEX is conducting site studies for the proposed Christie Lake Uranium Mine, which would be located near the southern end of the basin. The underground mine would develop three deposits, with either a processing plant onsite or a trucking operation to a nearby mill. Subscribers to Industrial Info's GMI Project Database can learn more from a detailed project report.
Toward the end of 2021, UEC acquired Uranium One Americas, which had been the world's fourth-largest uranium producer and part of Russia's State Atomic Energy Corporation (Rosatom).
"The [Uranium One Americas] transaction doubled UEC's processing capacity, in-situ recovery resources and permitted projects in the United States, while the UEX transaction doubles the size of our measured and indicated uranium resources," said Amir Adnani, the chief executive officer of UEC, in a press release. "UEC has an unparalleled industry position to capitalize on nuclear power's growing role as a climate change solution, contributing towards the mega trends of decarbonization, electrification and energy transition."
UEC is considering expansions for two of its own facilities in Texas: the uranium-processing plant in Hobson, which would see its capacity double to 4 million pounds per year of yellowcake, and the La Palangana Uranium Mine in Benavides, which is currently shuttered but would be restarted to produce 400,000 pounds per year of yellowcake. Both projects are in their early design phases, where plenty of factors can alter or eliminate any investment. Subscribers can read detailed reports on the Hobson and Benavides projects.
Subscribers to Industrial Info's GMI Project Database can click here for a full list of detailed reports for projects mentioned in this article, and click here for a full list of related plant profiles.
Subscribers can click here for a full list of reports for active uranium mining or leaching projects worldwide.