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Top 10 largest uranium mines in the world in 2020 - report

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(Kitco News) - Cigar Lake (Canada) was the largest uranium mine in the world in 2020 despite 44% production decline, followed by Husab (Namibia) and Olympic Dam (Australia) mines.  

As Kitco reported previously, the world’s total uranium production amounted to 47,731 tonnes in 2020, a significant 13% decline over 2019 (54,742 tonnes), and the lowest level of global uranium output in more than a decade.

Based on data by the World Nuclear Association, Kitco ranked the world’s top ten largest uranium mines by reported / estimated production in 2020. These biggest mines are ready to ride the rising uranium wave.

1. Cigar Lake, Canada. 3,885 tU.

Cigar Lake is the world’s largest and highest-grade uranium mine, with grades that are 100 times the world average. Cameco is a 50% owner and the mine operator. Cigar Lake uranium is milled at Orano’s (previously AREVA) McClean Lake mill.

As a result of challenging geological conditions, Cameco was unable to utilize traditional mining methods that require access above the ore, necessitating the development of a non-entry mining method specifically adapted for this deposit: the Jet Boring System and ore zone Bulk ground freezing. Uranium production at Cigar Lake dropped by 44% to 3,885 tU in 2020 due to the Covid-19 related suspensions.

2. Husab, Namibia. 3,302 tU.

The main part of the Husab project is the Rossing South orebody, about 5 kilometres south of the Rossing mine and 45 km northeast of Walvis Bay port, Namibia. Swakop Uranium started development of the mine in February 2013. Husab plans to mine 15 million tonnes of ore per year from two separate open pits to feed a processing plant designed to produce 6000t U3O8 per year. Mine construction commenced in 2014. Production started at the end of 2016, during which year 192t U3O8 was produced. In 2020, Husab produced 3,302 tU, compared to 3,400 tU in 2019. Most of the product is being supplied to China and up to 20% being marketed internationally by CGN Global Uranium.

3. Olympic Dam, Australia. 3,062 tU.

Located near the town of Roxby Downs 560km north of Adelaide in Australia, the Olympic Dam mine is one of the world’s most significant deposits of copper, gold, silver and uranium that is wholly owned and operated by BHP Billiton.

Olympic Dam is made up of underground and surface operations and operates a fully integrated processing facility from ore to metal. The underground mine is made up of more than 450 kilometres of underground roads and tunnels.

The mine has been in production since 1988. The deposit occurs in the basement rocks of the Stuart Shelf geological province in the north of South Australia. The mine produced 3,062 tU in 2020 calendar year, a 9% decline y-o-y.

4. Katco, Kazakhstan. 2,833 tU.

Owned and operated by the Katco joint venture, the Tortkuduk & Moinkum mines are located in southern Kazakhstan. The joint venture consists of Orano with 51% stake and the Kazakhstan-based company Kazatomprom with 49%.

The Tortkuduk deposit, also known as the North Moinkum deposit, uses highly-efficient and low-cost in-situ recovery technology to produce uranium. Production at the Tortkuduk mine began in 2007. The Tortkuduk & Moinkum mines produced 2,833 tU in 2020, a 13% decline over 2019.

5. Inkai, Kazakhstan. 2,693 tU.

Inkai is a very significant uranium deposit, located in Kazakhstan. The operator is JV Inkai limited liability partnership, which is jointly owned by Cameco (40%) and Kazatomprom (60%). Total 2020 production from Inkai was 2,693 tU, a 16% decrease from 2019. Inkai is second largest in-situ recovery uranium mine worldwide after Katco.

6. Karatau, Kazakhstan. 2,460 tU.

Karatau is an operating in-situ recovery uranium mine comprising the No. 2 section of the Budenovskoye uranium deposit, located in the Chu-Sarysu basin of the Suzak region, South Kazakhstan province. Employing approximately 620 people, Karatau is owned indirectly as to 50 % by Uranium One, a subsidiary of Russia’s Rosatom, through the Karatau joint venture, a Kazakhstan limited liability partnership. The other 50 % interest is owned by Kazatomprom.

7. Rossing, Namibia. 2,111 tU.

Uranium was discovered in the Namib Desert in 1928, but it was not until intensive exploration in the late 1950s that much interest was shown in the area. After discovering numerous uranium occurrences, Rio Tinto secured the rights to the low-grade Rossing deposit in 1966. Ten years later, in 1976, Rossing Uranium, Namibia’s first commercial uranium mine, started production.

The mine is located 12 km from the town of Arandis, which lies 70 km inland from the coastal town of Swakopmund in Namibia’s Erongo Region. Walvis Bay, Namibia’s only deep-water harbour, is located 30 km south of Swakopmund. The mine site encompasses a mining licence and accessory works areas of about 180 km2, of which 25 km2 is used for mining, waste disposal and processing.

On July 16, 2019, Rio Tinto annnounced it has completed the sale of its entire interest in the Rossing uranium mine in Namibia to China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) for an initial cash payment of $6.5 million plus a contingent payment of up to $100 million.

8. Somair (Arlit), Niger. 1,879 tU.

The Arlit uranium mine is a large mine located near Arlit, in the northern part of Niger in Agadez Region. Arlit represents one of the largest uranium reserves in Niger. Somaïr (Société des mines de l’Aïr), operator of Arlit mine, was established in 1968. Orano, the operator, holds 63.4% of the shares; the remaining 36.6% is held by SOPAMIN (Société du Patrimoine des Mines du Niger). Given the current characteristics of the processed ore, the production capacity is in the region of 2,000 tU per year (2020 production: 1,879 tU).

9. Four Mile, Australia. 1,806 tU.

Four Mile in-situ recovery uranium mine is located approximately 115 km northeast of Leigh Creek, adjacent to the Beverley and Beverley North Uranium Mine, 550 km north of Adelaide, Australia, east of the northern Flinders Ranges.

At Four Mile, oxygen and a weak acid mining solution is pumped through the ore body to dissolve the uranium minerals. The dissolved uranium is then pumped to the surface, loaded onto resin at the Beverley North Pannikan plant then transferred to the Beverley Processing Plant for further processing via the iron exchange (IX) process, dried and packaged for export.

10. South Inkai, Kazakhstan. 1,508 tU.

South Inkai is an operating in-situ recovery uranium mine located in the Chu-Sarysu basin in the Suzak region, South Kazakhstan province, Kazakhstan, owned indirectly as to 70% by Uranium One, a subsidiary of Russia’s Rosatom, through the SMCC joint venture. Kazatomprom holds the other 30% interest in SMCC.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and may not reflect those of Kitco Metals Inc. The author has made every effort to ensure accuracy of information provided; however, neither Kitco Metals Inc. nor the author can guarantee such accuracy. This article is strictly for informational purposes only. It is not a solicitation to make any exchange in commodities, securities or other financial instruments. Kitco Metals Inc. and the author of this article do not accept culpability for losses and/ or damages arising from the use of this publication.