Uranium in Canada: Everything You Need to Know
Did you know that Canada is the second largest global producer and exporter of uranium?! Canada is also home to the 4th largest reserves with most of our production coming the McArthur River and Cigar Lake mines in Northern Saskatchewan, two of the largest and highest-grade mines found in the world.
Uranium is the predominant fuel used in nuclear reactors here at home and around the globe, with about 15 per cent of Canada's total production being used to support CANDU reactors found almost entirely in Ontario. Other uses of uranium include radiotherapy, radiometric dating and industrial x-rays to name a few practical everyday applications.
To paint a picture of uranium mining in Canada in the past, present and future, we’ve compiled several facts for you below.
15+ Canadian Uranium Mining Facts
- Canada is the 2nd largest producer and exporter of uranium in the world
- Canada has the 4th largest uranium reserves in the world after Australia, Kazakhstan and Russia
- Uranium exploration in Canada began in earnest in 1942 during the Second World War
- In 1959, Canada produced over 12,000 tonnes of uranium which yielded $330 million in export revenue, the highest value of any mineral export that year
- Up to 2014, Canada mined more uranium than any other country – about 1/5th of the world’s total – at 485,000 tU (tonnes uranium)
- The McArthur River, one of the largest (in terms of production) and highest-grade uranium deposits in the world, was discovered in 1988
- The McArthur River mine has deposits that average 18 per cent uranium content, upwards of 100 times greater than the average grade of deposits elsewhere across the planet
- In 2016, Canada’s share of world uranium production was 22 per cent, worth about $2 billion
- Canada has the largest high-grade uranium deposits with grades of up to 20 per cent uranium (100x higher than the world’s average)
- More than 85 per cent of mined uranium in Canada is exported. The remainder is used to fuel CANDU reactors within Canada
- Of the 19 operating CANDU nuclear reactors in Canada, 18 are found in Ontario and 1 in New Brunswick
- A vast majority of exported uranium from Canada goes to the United States, Europe and Asia
- All Saskatchewan uranium mines have international ISO 14001 environmental certification
- More than 40 companies are engaged in the active exploration for new uranium deposits in Canada
- While most exploration is concentrated in northern Saskatchewan, other prospects in Labrador, Nova Scotia, Quebec, Nunavut and Ontario are also being examined
- Uranium mining is currently banned in three Canadian provinces: British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Quebec
Canada is a Leader in Uranium Production
Uranium Facilities in Canada - World Nuclear Association
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.
Today, Canada remains the second largest global uranium producer. Despite losing the top spot back in 2009, we 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.
Cigar Lake Uranium Mine in Northern Saskatchewan
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, account 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.
Sources: World Nuclear Association, Natural Resources Canada
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