Uranium in Canada: Everything You Need to Know

Uranium in Canada: Everything You Need to Know

Uranium in Canada facts statistics

This blog has been edited due to Bill C-59

Canada has long been one of the world’s biggest producers and exporters of uranium. The world’s second-largest country is home to the fourth-largest global reserves, almost all of which is produced by the McArthur River and Cigar Lake mines in Northern Saskatchewan, two of the largest and highest-grade mines found in the world.

Canada is a significant player in global markets, exporting about 80 per cent of its uranium production in 2022. Uranium is the predominant fuel used by nuclear reactors around the globe. Other uses of uranium include radiotherapy, radiometric dating and industrial x-rays to name a few practical everyday applications, although the lion’s share is dedicated to nuclear power applications.

To paint a picture of the uranium mining industry in Canada, we’ve compiled several facts for you below. Also see:

Canadian Uranium: Quick Facts

Canada is the second largest producer of uranium in the world

#1 - Canada was the second largest producer of uranium worldwide in 2022, with 7,351 metric tons of production [3]

#2 - Canada has a long history of exploration, mining and generation of nuclear power; up to 2019, more uranium had been mined in Canada than anywhere else – about one-fifth of the world’s total [4]

#3 - Canada is home to the world’s largest reserves of high-grade uranium with grades of up to 20% uranium – 100x greater than the global average [1]

#4 - Canada produced 7.4 kilotons of uranium in 2022, valued at approximately $1.1 billion [2]

#5 - Roughly 80% of Canadian uranium production was exported in 2022 [2]; the remainder is used to fuel CANDU nuclear reactors in Canada [1]

#6 - Canada’s uranium exporters are sold chiefly to North America/Latin America (64%), Asia (19%), and Europe (17%) [2]

#7 - 27% of uranium purchased by U.S. nuclear reactors in 2022 came from Canada, making it the largest foreign uranium supplier to the U.S. [2]

#8 - A majority of Canada’s uranium reserves are found in the Athabasca Basin of northern Saskatchewan, with uranium grades that are 10 to 100 times greater than the average grade of deposits mined elsewhere abroad [1]

#9 - The world’s largest uranium refinery is found at Blind River, Ontario, which also happens to be the only facility of its kind in Canada [1]

#10 - Canada’s home-grown CANDU nuclear technology has resulted in 18 CANDU reactors in operation in Ontario, 1 in New Brunswick, and 11 outside of Canada [2][5]

#11 - Argentina, China, India, Pakistan, South Korea and Romania are all home to CANDU reactors [5]

#12 – The mining and milling of uranium directly employs more than 2,000 Canadians at the extraction sites, more than half of whom are resident of northern Saskatchewan [6]

#13 – Nuclear power plants – supplied by Canadian uranium mines – provided nearly 14% of Canada’s total electricity supply in 2021 [2]

Canada is a Leader in Uranium Production

Canada is the 2nd largest producer of uranium in the world

Canada was the world’s leading producer of uranium for many years, accounting for about 22 per cent of the world’s total output up until 2009 when it was overtaken by Kazakhstan [4].

Today, Canada remains the second-largest global uranium producer. Despite losing the top spot back in 2009, Canadians still have a lot to boast about such as the fact that Canada is home to the McArthur River and Cigar Lake mines, two of the largest and highest-grade uranium mines in the world.

With vast known resources – about 583,000 tonnes of U3O8 (triuranium octoxide, a stable form of uranium oxide) – and continued exploration efforts to date, Canada will play a substantial role in meeting the world's uranium demand for years to come.

What is Uranium Used For?

Cigar Lake Mine is the largest undeveloped high grade uranium deposit in the world, located in northern Saskatchewan, Canada.

Cigar Lake Uranium Mine in Northern Saskatchewan

Uranium is a precious heavy metal which has been used as a source of abundant nuclear energy over the past several decades. Originally discovered in 1789 by a German chemist named Martin Klaproth [7], today the metal is largely used for nuclear power applications, although it is also used in isotope production for medical, industrial, and defence purposes [8].

Brief History of Uranium in Canada

1930s - Eldorado Gold Mining Company begins radium mining operations at Port Radium in the Northwest Territories. A new radium refinery was built a year later at Port Hope, Ontario, about 5,000 kilometres away.

1942 - Exploration for uranium begins in response to high military demand. The government puts a ban on mining radioactive materials due to their "strategic" nature.

1944 - The federal government takes over the Eldorado company and forms a new crown corporation. Eldorado Nuclear Ltd. and the Geological Survey of Canada are the only ones allowed to explore and mine uranium at this time.

1947 - Post World War 2 uranium mining gathers speed after wartime ban on private prospecting is lifted.

1950s - Uranium deposits are discovered around the Bancroft, Ontario area, with the first discovery in the Elliot Lake region in 1953.

1959 - 23 mines with 19 treatment plants were in operation across Ontario, Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories, with peak production of 12,000 tonnes of uranium the same year.

1970s - A burst of exploration results in major discoveries in the Athabasca Basin in northern Saskatchewan.

1970s & 80s - Major mines at Rabbit Lake, Cluff Lake and Key Lake start, which up until 2000 accounted for a large majority of Canada's uranium production.

1988 - Massive McArthur River deposit discovered, one of the largest and highest-grade mines in the world still in operation today.

1990s - Saskatchewan government considers phasing out uranium mining, but policy is reversed after a joint Federal-Saskatchewan study panel on health, safety, environment and socio-economic impact found that the environmental impact could be reduced and the jobs were irreplaceable.

2010s - Canada is a top global supplier of uranium, accounting for more than 22 per cent of production in 2016 - worth about $2 billion. More than 85 per cent is exported for use around the world.

2020s - Canada remains the world's second-largest producer of uranium, about four-fifths of which is exported to buyers in North America, Asia, and Europe

Sources: World Nuclear Association, Natural Resources Canada

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1 - https://natural-resources.canada.ca/energy/energy-sources-distribution/uranium-nuclear-energy/uranium-canada/about-uranium/7695

2 - https://energy-information.canada.ca/sites/default/files/2023-10/energy-factbook-2023-2024.pdf

3 - https://www.statista.com/statistics/263550/mine-production-of-uranium-by-country/

4 - https://world-nuclear.org/information-library/country-profiles/countries-a-f/canada-uranium.aspx

5 - https://natural-resources.canada.ca/our-natural-resources/minerals-mining/minerals-metals-facts/uranium-and-nuclear-power-facts/20070

6 - https://natural-resources.canada.ca/energy/energy-sources-distribution/uranium-nuclear-energy/uranium-canada/7693

7 - https://world-nuclear.org/information-library/nuclear-fuel-cycle/introduction/what-is-uranium-how-does-it-work.aspx