Australian Uranium Issues

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"The energy derived from 1 pound of uranium is equivalent to 20,000 pounds of coal"

If they didn't make massive bombs from it uranium probably wouldn't be such a contentious element, although nuclear power station accidents like those at Chernobyl in the former USSR and Three Mile Island in the USA certainly haven't helped the cause.

The safety of nuclear power technologies has improved substantially in recent decades, to the point where politicians are starting to consider the viability of nuclear power in Australia.

Nuclear power has no direct greenhouse emissions, unlike coal or other fuels which are burnt, but the environmental concerns are valid and allthough highly unlikely a nuclear accident in Australia could have widespread consequences.

However as Australia has around 40% of the world's easily mined uranium there is a valid call for a debate that takes into consideration the position of other less energy rich countries who are at present clamouring for Australian uranium. And if Australia markedly expands its' uranium exports can we then not take part in a 'cradle to grave' industry that includes waste storage and reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel?

Uranium Production by Nation (the top ten) in 2013
(Largest to smaller)

Kazakhstan kept its spot as the world's biggest uranium company for the fifth year in a row. In 2013, the nation created 28 percent of the world's supply of uranium from mines, putting out 22,574 tons. Kazakhstan's largest mine is owned by Katco Tortkuduk,, a joint venture between AREVA (EPA:AREVA) and Kazatomprom. The mine produced 2,563 tons in 2013, and produces uranium through in-situ leaching, or ISL.

At one time Canada was the biggest uranium producer on earth, but that place was lost by it to Kazakhstan in 2009. Its biggest uranium-creating mine is McArthur River, which Cameco owns (TSX:CCO,NYSE:CCJ). It produced 7,744 tons of uranium in 2013 and is an underground operation. The McArthur River mine is in Saskatchewan, like all of Canada's operating uranium mines.

The country's biggest mine, Olympic Dam, is owned by BHP Billiton (NYSE:BHP,ASX:BHP,LSE:BLT) and produced 3,399 tons of uranium in 2013. It's subterranean operation and a byproduct. Based on the World Nuclear Association, Australia has the greatest amount of known uranium resources in the world, amounting to 31 percent of the global total. ASX listed companies also control some of the world's largest undeveloped uranium resources in foreign places, (ASX: AEE & GGG) and if overseas resources are included Australia controls substantially more than the cited 31%.

Niger produced 4,528 tons of uranium in 2013. The state only started to create uranium commercially in 1971, and already creates 7.5 percent of the world's uranium from mines. It has the greatest grades of uranium ore in Africa, based on the World Nuclear Association, along with powerful governmental support for expansion in the business. The country's largest mine is SOMAIR, possessed by AREVA. It created 2,730 tons in 2013. Both COMINAK and SOMAIR, the other uranium mine of the nation, were shut down for maintenance at the end of 2013 and still await the renewal of their licenses.

The country has two considerable uranium mines, one of which is Langer Heinrich. Commercial generation of uranium in Namibia commenced in 1976, nearly half a century after uranium was discovered in the Namib Desert.

Russia created 3,135 tons of uranium in 2013. The nation has about 10 percent of the world's uranium resources, as per the World Nuclear Association. Russia also has substantial reserves of uranium. Priargunsky, possessed by AtomRedMetZoloto, or ARMZ, is an underground mine that made 2,133 tons of uranium in 2013. It is the nation's biggest uranium mine.

Uzbekistan accounted for a sizable part of the uranium supply in Russia until it achieved its independence in 1991, along with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Now, the country mines most of its own uranium in its central region.

The United States ranks ninth in the entire world for known uranium resources, and had about 207,400 tons of resources that are reasonably assured as of 2011. In 2013, the country created 1,835 tons of uranium. Uranium mining has gone on in the US since the 1950 s. Now, the US creates less uranium than it uses, importing the remainder; it plans to expand its national production. In 2013, the US operated three underground mines and six ISL uranium operations.

China created an estimated 1,450 tons of uranium in 2013. The country is working toward this aim by raising its mining activity, and wants to produce one-third of its uranium domestically. Its largest mine is the Fuzhou project in Jiangxi province.

Malawi produced 1,132 tons of uranium in 2013. Malawi's biggest mine is ASX listed Paladin (PDN) Kayelekera project in Northern Malawi. The mine produced all of Malawi's uranium in 2013. The mine is currently not producing as a result of low uranium prices.


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Military Warheads as a Source of Nuclear Fuel

    * Weapons-grade uranium and plutonium surplus to military requirements in the USA and Russia is being made available for use as civil fuel.
    * Weapons-grade uranium is highly enriched, to over 90% U-235 (the fissile isotope). Weapons-grade plutonium has over 93% Pu-239 and can be used, like reactor-grade plutonium, in fuel for electricity production.
    * Highly-enriched uranium from weapons stockpiles is displacing some 10,600 tonnes of U3O8 production from mines each year, and meets about 13% of world reactor requirements.

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