How Much Uranium Is Left In The World, & When Will We Run Out?

In this guide, we discuss the world’s uranium resources and reserves.

We outline how much we might have left (both on land and in the ocean), if we might run out and when, what might happen if we do, and more.

 

Summary – The World’s Uranium Resources

The Different Uses Of Uranium Across Society, & Why It’s Important

Uranium’s main use in society at the moment is for energy generation and electricity production

We list the other uses for uranium across society in the guide below

 

Where Is Uranium Found?

Most uranium is mined from rocks

However, there are other sources of uranium too, which we list in the guide below

 

How Much Uranium Is Left In The World? – Resources, & Reserves

There’s currently more uranium resources than reserves

Further exploration and discovery of uranium could increase both resources and reserves

Uranium reserves are also available at different prices – the more consumers are willing to pay, the more uranium can be extracted

In addition to primary resources, unconventional uranium resources are available where uranium is mined as a by-product of the mining of other metals and minerals

In addition to uranium on land, there’s a significant amount of uranium in the ocean in trace amounts, but, it’s currently not economically feasible to extract 

 

Country With The Largest Uranium Mine Reserves

Kazakhstan has the largest recoverable reserves at a lower recovery cost

Australia has the largest recoverable reserves at higher recovery costs

 

Most Common Uranium Production Methods

In situ leach, and underground and open pit mining are the most common uranium mining methods at the moment

 

Total Global Uranium Mine Production

Total global uranium production has ranged from 47,731 to 63,207 tonnes U from 2011 to 2020

 

Countries That Produce The Most Uranium

Kazakhstan produces the most uranium from mines

 

Total Global Uranium Demand

One report indicates the current annual global uranium demand is about 67,000 tonnes U

 

Are We Running Out Of Uranium, & Will We Run Out Of Uranium In The Future?

It doesn’t appear as though we will run out of uranium in the short term.

However, whether uranium resources and reserves start getting depleted beyond a critical level in the medium to long term depends on different factors

We list some different factors in the guide below

 

When Will We Run Out Of Uranium? … How Many Years Worth Of Uranium Do We Have Left?

We include some estimates as potential (but not definitive) answers to this question in the guide below

Estimates range from 80 years up to 230 years at today’s consumption rate, for uranium based on land.

However, further exploration of uranium could increase estimates, and when taking into consideration uranium in the ocean, estimates go as high as thousands of years

New reactor technology, processes, and practices could also help extend supplies

 

Uranium Shortages

Different reports have different analysis’ on uranium shortages. 

We’ve listed a couple of different reports that have differing information on uranium shortages in the guide below

 

What Happens If We Start Running Out Of Uranium?

Factors like availability of uranium and also the price of uranium may start to be impacted more heavily

 

Managing Uranium Resources More Sustainably

We outline some of the ways uranium might be managed more sustainably as a resource in the guide below

 

What Uranium Is Used For Across Society, & Why It’s Important

The main use for uranium in society at the moment is for energy generation – to fuel nuclear reactors

From world-nuclear.org: ‘The vast majority [of uranium] is consumed by the power sector [and … ] used almost entirely for making electricity’

From zeusresources.com: ‘[Uranium provides] about 14% of the world’s electricity’

 

Other uses for uranium include but aren’t limited to:

– Medicine

For producing isotopes for medical or research purposes

 

– Defence

Used in marine propulsion, especially naval

Has also been used in nuclear weapons

 

– Food processing

Radio-isotopes are used to sterilize fresh products

 

– Industry

Radio-isotopes are used for industrial X-ray requirements across a range of industries for safety and quality

 

– Space industry

Radio-isoptopes are used to produce heat and electricity for space probes

 

Where Is Uranium Found?

– In rocks

Produced mostly from resources mined via in situ leach, and underground and open pit mining. But, uranium is also produced as a by-product of mining other metals, and these resources are known as ‘unconventional resources’)

These primary supplies of uranium ‘… provide about 85% of total requirements’ (world-nuclear.org)

 

– Secondary sources and supplies or uranium

From world-nuclear.org:

… secondary sources [include] commercial [and government and utility] stockpiles, nuclear weapons stockpiles, recycled plutonium and uranium from reprocessing used fuel, and some from re-enrichment of depleted uranium tails (left over from original enrichment) … [which can be] re-enriched with more efficient processes.

A significant secondary supply of uranium is provided by the decommissioning of nuclear warheads by the USA and Russia. 

 

– Seawater 

Uranium in seawater is found in very low concentrations (in terms of ppm) compared to uranium ores found on land (hence, why large amount of seawater are needed to recover reasonable amounts of uranium).

This low concentration can make it far less economically feasible to extract this uranium from the sea.

One way to recover uranium in seawater is with a specially designed yarn to extract natural trace amounts of uranium. 

 

– Unexplored areas containing undiscovered uranium resources

For example: ‘… much of Canada, Greenland, Siberia and Antarctica are currently unexplored due to permafrost and may hold substantial undiscovered reserves’ (wikipedia.org)

 

How Much Uranium Is Left In The World? – Resources, & Reserves

There appears to be a significant amount more uranium resources than reserves in the world, and it appears that further exploration and discovery could increase resources

Available uranium reserves can also increase or decrease depending on the price that is paid to extract these reserves (the higher the price, the more that is available)

In addition to primary sources of uranium, unconventional uranium resources are available, where uranium is mined as a by-product of mining other metals

At the moment, uranium in the ocean is not economically feasible to extract. However, there appears to be a lot more uranium in the ocean (in very low concentration amounts) than on land

 

Resources

Total world resources of uranium, as with any other mineral or metal, are not known exactly (world-nuclear.org)

 

From world-nuclear.org:

The world’s present measured resources of uranium [are] 6.1 Mt …

[In addition to this 6.1 Mt, there’s also uranium in ‘unconventional resources’ [mined as a] by-product of mining of other metals … [and these] unconventional resources … have accounted for over 11% of historical uranium production 

 

world-nuclear.org has 2019 data on two set of recoverable uranium resources

They indicate there’s 6,147,800 tonnes U of identified resources recoverable (reasonably assured resources plus inferred resources), to $130/kg U.

However, ‘The total recoverable identified resources to $260/kg U is 8.070 million tonnes U.’

 

According to the NEA, [in 2009] identified uranium resources total 5.5 million metric tons, and an additional 10.5 million metric tons remain undiscovered [but] Further exploration and improvements in extraction technology are likely to at least double this estimate over time (scientificamerican.com)

 

Unconventional Uranium Resources

world-nuclear.org outlines the different sources of unconventional uranium resources:

The main unconventional resource for uranium is rock phosphate, or phosphorite. 

Rare earth element (REE) deposits are another such unconventional resource …

Black (Alum) shales are another unconventional resource with some attempts being made to exploit them. 

[Rock phosphate and REE deposits are usually not economically profitable to extract uranium from, but higher prices and process improvements could change that in the future]

 

Reserves

wikipedia.org provides information on total reserves recoverable at different price points:

As of 2015 646,900 tonnes of reserves are recoverable at US$40 per kilogram of uranium, while 7,641,600 tonnes of reserves are recoverable at $260 per kilogram

 

Uranium In The Ocean

[It is estimated] there is at least 4 billion tonnes of uranium in … the ocean, which is around 500 times the amount known to exist in land-based ore (sciencealert.com)

 

Difference In Uranium Deposit & Trace Concentrations

Different uranium deposits and traces of uranium contain different grades of ores and different concentrations of uranium (in ppm), from very high to very low concentrations.

world-nuclear.org has a table that shows the concentration ppm of the different ores and sources or uranium.

Seawater for example has the lowest concentration of uranium.

 

Countries With The Largest Uranium Reserves

There’s three sets of data we’ve looked at showing the countries with the largest uranium reserves.

One set of data only includes uranium that is recoverable at a cost of less than 80 U.S. dollars per kilogram, and indicates Kazakstan has the largest uranium reserves 

The next set of data includes uranium recoverable at a cost range of less than $130/kg, and indicates Australia has the largest recoverable uranium resources

The next set of data includes uranium recoverable at a cost range of less than US$260/kg, and indicates Australia has the largest uranium reserves

 

Reserves Recoverable At Less Than 80 U.S. Dollars Per Kilogram

From statista.com:

[When taking into account uranium that is recoverable at a cost of less than 80 U.S. dollars per kilogram, the country with the largest uranium reserves in 2020 was Kazakhstan at 344,000 metric tons]

[Canada was second at 258,000, South Africa third at 166,000, and Brazil fourth at 156,000]

 

Resources Recoverable At A Cost Range Of Less Than $130/kg

From world-nuclear.org:

[In 2019, the country with the largest identified resources recoverable (reasonably assured resources plus inferred resources), to $130/kg, was Australia, at 1,692,700 tonnes U. This was 28% of the world’s identified resources recoverable]

[Second was Kazakhstan at 906,800 and 15%, and third was Canada at 564,900 and 9%]

 

Reserves Recoverable At A Cost Range Of Less Than US$260/kg

From wikipedia.org:

[When taking into account uranium recoverable at a cost range of less than US$260/kg, the country with the largest uranium reserves in 2015 was Australia at 1,780,800 metric tonnes]

[Kazakhstan was second at 941,600, and Canada third at 703,600]

 

How Is Most Uranium Produced?

world-nuclear.org indicates that in situ leach is the leading mining method for uranium (at 55%), followed by underground and open pit (38%), and by-product mining in third (7%).

 

Total Global Uranium Production

From world-nuclear.org:

[In 2020, total world uranium production was 47,731 tonnes U, and 56,287 U3O8]

[Total world uranium production from 2011 to 2019 has generally ranged from 53,493 tonnes U, to 63,207]

 

Countries That Produce The Most Uranium

Kazakhstan produces the most uranium from mines

 

From world-nuclear.org:

Over two-thirds of the world’s production of uranium from mines is from Kazakhstan, Canada and Australia

[In 2020, the country that produced the most uranium from mines was Kazakhstan at 19,477 tonnes U]

[Australia was second at 6203, and Namibia third at 5413]

[However, over the last decade or so, Canada has generally ranked second every year behind Kazakhstan for uranium production]

 

Total Global Uranium Demand

There’s several ways to express demand and consumption requirements for uranium 

 

Total Global Uranium Demand

The current global demand for uranium is about 67,000 tU/yr (tonnes uranium per year) (world-nuclear.org)

 

Total Global Uranium Demand As A % Of Production

world-nuclear.org lists the global production numbers of uranium per year, and the % that these numbers make up of world demand.

To use one example in 2020: [Total world uranium production was 47,731 tonnes U, and this was 74% of world demand. This would mean world demand was 35,320.94]

 

Uranium Requirements Of The World’s Power Reactors

Another world-nuclear.org data set indicates:

The world’s power reactors, with combined capacity of about 400 GWe, require some 67,500 tonnes of uranium from mines or elsewhere each year.

While this capacity is being run more productively, with higher capacity factors and reactor power levels, the uranium fuel requirement is increasing, but not necessarily at the same rate.’

 

Are We Running Out Of Uranium, & Will We Run Out Of Uranium In The Future?

It looks as though we won’t run out of uranium in the short term.

In the medium to long term however, whether or not uranium reserves and supplies become more scarce depends on several factors, including but not limited to:

– Future demand and consumption (especially from reactors)

There’s several factors that might impact uranium requirements and consumption rates at reactors

 

– Whether or not new exploration takes place and recoverable/extractable resources are discovered

 

From world-nuclear.org:

As with other minerals, investment in geological exploration generally results in increased known resources.

Over 2005 and 2006 exploration effort resulted in the world’s known uranium resources increasing by 15% in that two years [and] The world’s known uranium resources increased by at least one-quarter in the last decade due to increased mineral exploration

There is therefore no reason to anticipate any shortage of uranium … for decades or even centuries to come.

This does not even take into account improvements in nuclear power technology which could effectively increase the available resource dramatically.

 

Specifically with newly discovered uranium resources, they need to be able to be extracted at an economically feasible price, and be physically accessible.

As world-nuclear.org mentions: ‘The only meaningful measure of long-term security of supply [of uranium] is the known reserves in the ground capable of being mined’

 

– Whether or not confirmed reserves stay stable, or whether they start to deplete

Annual reserve charts can be analysed to see if the reserve levels are increasing, are stable, or are decreasing over the medium to long term

 

– Whether consumers are willing to pay more to extract uranium resources that are more expensive to extract

 

From world-nuclear.org:

[The amount of recoverable uranium is] relative to both costs of extraction and market prices.

For example … At ten times the current price*, seawater, for example, might become a potential source of vast amounts of uranium [but consumers might have to pay a lot more for this uranium via a significant price rise]

… any predictions of the future availability of any mineral, including uranium, which are based on current cost and price data, as well as current geological knowledge, are likely to prove extremely conservative.

[Factors affecting the supply of resources are discussed further in the world-nuclear.org resource]

 

– Plus, other factors

 

Why We Might Never Run Out Of Some Mined Resources

We put together this guide which explains why we might never run out of some resources:

We Might Never Run Out Of Mined Resources (Minerals, Metals, Fossil Fuels etc) – Here’s Why

One of the general points we make is that once easily/cheaply extractable deposits of resources like uranium are exhausted, uranium may simply become more expensive as new extraction activities become more costly.

 

wikipedia.org illustrates this point with this example:

The amount of ultimately recoverable uranium depends strongly on what one would be willing to pay for it.

Uranium is a widely distributed metal with large low-grade deposits that are not currently considered profitable 

As of 2015 646,900 tonnes of reserves are recoverable at US$40 per kilogram of uranium, while 7,641,600 tonnes of reserves are recoverable at $260 per kilogram

 

When Will We Run Out Of Uranium? … How Many Years Worth Of Uranium Do We Have Left?

Estimates range from 80 years up to 230 years at today’s consumption rate, for uranium based on land.

However, further exploration of uranium could increase estimates.

One estimate for sea based uranium suggests there could be thousands of years of supply of uranium in the ocean, but, until we can extract uranium from the ocean at an affordable price, this may not be a feasible source of uranium.

 

Land Based Uranium

From phys.org:

At the current rate of uranium consumption with conventional reactors, the world supply of viable uranium, which is the most common nuclear fuel, will last for 80 years.

Scaling consumption up to 15 TW, the viable uranium supply will last for less than 5 years.

(Viable uranium is the uranium that exists in a high enough ore concentration so that extracting the ore is economically justified.)

 

From world-nuclear.org:

The world’s present measured resources of uranium (6.1 Mt) in the cost category less than three times present spot prices and used only in conventional reactors, are enough to last for about 90 years.

Further exploration and higher prices will certainly, on the basis of present geological knowledge, yield further resources as present ones are used up. 

 

From scientificamerican.com:

[When adding up] identified uranium resources [and] undiscovered [uranium resources, there’s …] roughly [a] 230-year supply at today’s consumption rate in total [but] Further exploration and improvements in extraction technology are likely to at least double this estimate over time 

 

Ocean Based Uranium

From phys.org:

Uranium is most often mined from the Earth’s crust, but it can also be extracted from seawater, which contains large quantities of uranium (3.3 ppb, or 4.6 trillion kg).

Theoretically, that amount would last for 5,700 years using conventional reactors to supply 15 TW of power. 

In fast breeder reactors [a special type of nuclear reactor], which could extend the use of uranium by a factor of 60, the uranium could last for 300,000 years.

However, [some argue] that these reactors’ complexity and cost makes them uncompetitive.

 

Uranium Shortages

On one hand, in 2020, forbes.com pointed out ‘There is not now, nor has there even been a shortage of uranium.’

On the other hand, stockhead.com.au potentially suggests uranium supply is falling well behind demand, and could continue to do so into the future.

So, there appears to be some different information on uranium supply, demand, and the ability to bring enough uranium to market to meet consumption/demand requirements.

This analysis is outside the scope of this guide overall.

 

What Happens If We Run Out Of Uranium?

Running out of any resource may impact things such as:

– The availability of that resource for the key things we use it for across society.

Specifically for uranium, the use of uranium in applications like energy generation in reactors

 

– The price of that resource as it becomes more scarce, and consequently, the affordability of the things we use that resource for 

The price of resources increasing as reserves are depleted is something we mentioned in our guide about why we may not run out of mined resources anytime soon.

 

Is Uranium A Renewable Resource?

Uranium is not renewable because it’s finite, and we use it at rates that are higher than the rate it forms in nature.

However, there’s several ways uranium might be used more sustainably as a resource. 

 

Managing Uranium Resources More Sustainably

There might be a range of ways to manage uranium more sustainably, including but not limited to:

– Reducing consumption and demand for uranium, and using uranium more efficiently in reactors and as fuel

– Re-using depleted or spent uranium 

– Recycling uranium

– Substituting uranium as an energy source where possible

 

These options and others might place less of a burden on extracting new uranium in the future.

 

Reducing Uranium Consumption, & Using Uranium More Efficiently

world-nuclear.org indicates that there’s several ways uranium consumption might be reduced for fuel, or uranium might be used more efficiently, such as:

Reducing tails assay in enrichment

Reprocessing of used fuel from some reactors

Plus, other more efficient reactor plant operation practices

 

scientificamerican.com outlines other ways uranium requirements could be reduced when used for reactor fuel

 

Recycling & Re-Using Uranium

Current Recycling Of Uranium

Leftover nuclear waste (i.e. depleted uranium) can be recycled

 

Recycled uranium and plutonium … currently saves about 2000 tU per year of primary supply (world-nuclear.org)

 

Re-Using Depleted Uranium

Re-enrichment of depleted uranium is one way uranium might be utilized as a secondary source

 

Extending Uranium Supply

Beyond other practices mentioned in this guide, such as using uranium more efficiently, reducing uranium consumption requirements at reactors, recycling or re-using uranium based fuels, and so on … there might be ways to extend uranium supplies in the future.

 

scientificamerican.com indicates that there are two technologies that could extend the uranium supply:

First, the extraction of uranium from seawater would make available 4.5 billion metric tons of uranium—a 60,000-year supply at present rates.

Second, fuel-recycling fast-breeder reactors … could match today’s nuclear output for 30,000 years …

[… Neither is economical now, but both could be in the future if the price of uranium increases substantially]

 

Potential Substitutes For Uranium

For Reactors

Thorium might be a substitute fuel in some types of reactors

 

From world-nuclear.org:

‘Today uranium is the only fuel supplied for nuclear reactors [however] thorium can also be utilised as a fuel for CANDU reactors or in reactors specially designed for this purpose’

‘The thorium fuel cycle has some attractive features, though it is not yet in commercial use. Thorium is reported to be about three times as abundant in the Earth’s crust as uranium’

 

Other Methods Of Energy Generation

There’s several other types of energy generation that might be used instead of nuclear energy generation.

Traditional fossil fuels, hydrogen, and renewables (solar, wind, hydro, etc) are a few examples.

 

Will We Run Out Of Nuclear Fuel?

Nuclear fuel is the fuel used in nuclear power stations to produce heat to power turbines.

world-nuclear.org indicates that ‘Uranium is the main fuel used for nuclear reactors …’, whilst energyeducation.ca indicates that ‘… the most common nuclear fuels are the radioactive metals uranium-235 and plutonium-239’.

Information on how much uranium is left can be found in the guide above.

We currently do not have a guide on the remaining plutonium resources in the world.

 

What’s also worth mentioning is that in addition to potential substitures for uranium listed in the guide above, and also potential methods for extending uranium supplies, there may be additional ways in the future to produce different types of nuclear fuel.

investingnews.com for example mentions that this could be the case with some types of waste:

The production of rare earth oxides creates radioactive waste in the form of thorium … [and] science [might develop a way] to use the material as nuclear fuel, either in next generation nuclear facilities, or as a substitute to uranium

 

 

Sources

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_uranium_reserves

2. https://www.statista.com/statistics/264781/countries-with-the-largest-uranium-reserves/

3. https://world-nuclear.org/information-library/nuclear-fuel-cycle/uranium-resources/supply-of-uranium.aspx

4. https://world-nuclear.org/information-library/nuclear-fuel-cycle/mining-of-uranium/world-uranium-mining-production.aspx

5. https://world-nuclear.org/information-library/nuclear-fuel-cycle/mining-of-uranium/uranium-mining-overview.aspx

6. https://world-nuclear.org/information-library/nuclear-fuel-cycle/uranium-resources.aspx

7. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-long-will-global-uranium-deposits-last/

8. https://stockhead.com.au/resources/uranium-supply-is-falling-well-behind-demand-these-asx-stocks-are-rushing-to-fill-the-hole/

9. https://www.forbes.com/sites/llewellynking/2020/06/08/uranium-supply-isnt-the-crisis-in-the-nuclear-industry/?sh=3276be114f48

10. https://www.sciencealert.com/scientists-successfully-extracted-uranium-directly-ocean-water-nuclear-yellowcake-energy

11. https://phys.org/news/2011-05-nuclear-power-world-energy.html

12. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peak_uranium 

13. https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2017/05/04/we-have-plenty-of-uranium-in-north-america/#42c75e1c67ce 

14. https://www.zeusresources.com/uranium-and-its-applications/

15. https://www.world-nuclear.org/nuclear-essentials/how-is-uranium-made-into-nuclear-fuel.aspx

16. https://energyeducation.ca/encyclopedia/Nuclear_fuel

17. https://investingnews.com/daily/resource-investing/critical-metals-investing/rare-earth-investing/thorium-rare-earth-liability-or-asset/

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