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Today in Energy

May 6, 2019

U.S. uranium production in 2018 was the lowest in nearly 70 years

U.S. uranium production
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review and Domestic Uranium Production Report
Note: Data for 2018 are preliminary.

The United States produced 1.47 million pounds of uranium concentrate in 2018, down for the fourth consecutive year and the lowest total since 1950, based on preliminary production data. Uranium production in the United States has declined since its peak of 43.7 million pounds in 1980 and has remained below 5 million pounds annually for more than 20 years.

U.S. uranium supply
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review and Uranium Marketing Annual Report

As domestic uranium production has declined over the past several decades, owners and operators of commercial nuclear power plants in the United States have obtained more uranium from foreign sources. Canada has historically been the largest single source of imported uranium, followed by Australia, Russia, and Kazakhstan, countries in which the cost of uranium is lower than in the United States.

Preparing uranium for use as fuel in nuclear reactors involves several steps. The production of uranium concentrate—U3O8, known more commonly as yellowcake—is the first step in the nuclear fuel production process. In 2018, uranium concentrate was produced at seven U.S. facilities: one uranium mill in Utah and six in-situ leach plants in Wyoming and Nebraska.

In-situ leaching, or in-situ recovery, extracts uranium that coats sand and gravel particles of groundwater reservoirs. The process involves injecting a solution into the reservoir that causes the uranium to dissolve into the groundwater. This water is then pumped out of the reservoir and processed at a uranium mill. Uranium milling involves extracting uranium ore, crushing it into a fine powder, and adding chemicals to separate the uranium. Groundwater from in-situ leach operations is processed at a mill by extracting and concentrating the uranium.

U.S. energy mapping system's energy-related layers
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, U.S. Energy Mapping System

EIA recently updated its U.S. Energy Mapping System to include uranium resources across the country. Uranium production facility information was also updated. The new uranium layers include

Identified resource areas, which include uranium provinces, districts, and select important deposits.

Uranium associated with phosphate, which are sedimentary phosphate deposits that contain trace amounts of uranium. When uranium prices are high enough, producers may extract trace uranium as part of the phosphate mining process.

NURE favorable areas, which are areas considered by the National Uranium Resource Evaluation (NURE) to be favorable for uranium. NURE was a U.S. Department of Energy assessment of uranium resource potential conducted from 1974 to 1982.

Principal contributor: Michael Mobilia