In the latest edition of Uranium Resources, Production and Demand, known as the Red Book, the NEA says uranium production cuts deepened suddenly with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020.
Overall, world uranium production decreased from 53,501 tonnes of uranium (tU) in 2018 to 47,342 tU in2020 as producers instituted production cuts, followed by a slight increase to 47,472 tU in 2021. These planned reductions were greatest in Canada and Kazakhstan.
As of 1 January 2021, the annual production capacity of idled mines amounted to over 29,400 tU. These operations, which have all the necessary licences, permits and agreements for operation and have produced commercially in the past, could potentially be brought back into production relatively rapidly given appropriate market conditions.
In 2020, 16 countries produced uranium for a global total of 47,432 tU. Kazakhstan’s continuous growth in production reached a peak of 24,689 tU in 2016, after which it started to decline in 2017 as production cuts were instituted to reduce supply to an oversupplied market.
Five Countries Account For More than 80%
Kazakhstan nonetheless remained by far the world’s largest producer, even as production was eased back from 21,705 tU in 2018 to 19,477 tU in 2020. Kazakhstan’s 2020 production alone totalled more than the combined production in that year from Australia, Namibia, Canada, and Uzbekistan, respectively the second, third, fourth and fifth largest producers of uranium in 2020. These five countries accounted for 81% of global uranium output that year.
Total exploration and mine development expenditures from 2018 to 2020 in the reporting countries amounted to $1.25bn, with Canada, China, India, Russia and Kazakhstan leading the way. Expenditures in Canada alone exceeded the total spending of the remaining top five countries and amounted to 44% of the total.
Total identified recoverable uranium resources have decreased by nearly 2% from 2019 with the most significant decreases occurred in reasonably assured resources, which were down 39% and inferred resources, down 5%.
The Red Book says the decreases were primarily the result of mining depletion and changes in the cost of recovery for some resources in Kazakhstan and Canada.
Globally, Australia continues to lead with 28% of the world’s identified recoverable resources in the cost category of $130 (€119) per kilogramme of uranium. Almost 80% of Australia’s national total endowment is related to a single site, BHP’s Olympic Dam deposit in South Australia.
In terms of lower-cost identified recoverable resources Kazakhstan leads with 65% at $80/kgU and 36% at 40/kgU.
Identified recoverable resources includes both reasonably assured and inferred resources.
Noteworthy changes in resources occurred in other countries, such as Canada, Central African Republic, Mongolia, Namibia and Niger. Canada experienced a significant decrease in lowest cost category reasonably assured recoverable resources due to the combined effects of inflation, changes in cut-off grades and mining depletion.
In other countries, the re-estimation of resources resulted in adjustments in resource values, such as shifting of resources from lower to higher cost categories and from inferred to reasonably assured resources.