U.S. Uranium Production Remains Near Historic Low as Imports Continue to Fuel U.S. Reactors
- June 2, 2016
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Most of the uranium loaded into U.S. nuclear power reactors is imported. During 2015, owners and operators of U.S. nuclear power reactors purchased 57 million pounds of uranium. Nearly half of these purchases originated from two countries, Canada and Kazakhstan, providing 17 million pounds and 11 million pounds of uranium, respectively.
U.S. uranium concentrate production, which started in 1949 and peaked in 1980, has recently been near historic lows. Uranium production was 0.63 million pounds of uranium (U3O8) in the first quarter 2016. At that rate, total 2016 production may be about 2.5 million pounds, only slightly higher than the low of 2.0 million pounds produced in 2003.
Nebraska and Wyoming are the only states that produced uranium concentrate in fourth-quarter 2015 and first-quarter 2016. Production in Texas and Utah stopped in the third quarter of 2015. The one uranium producer in Nebraska has decided to reduce production. Three new producers have begun operations in Wyoming since 2013, but the state’s other producers are scaling down production.
Employment in the U.S. uranium production industry generally correlates to the market price for uranium. The spot price of uranium increased from an annual average of $11 per pound in 2003 to nearly $100 per pound in 2007. Uranium production employment more than quadrupled from 321 person-years in 2003 to 1,563 person-years in 2008. Since then, uranium spot prices and production employment have been lower, with prices averaging below $30 per pound and employment at 625 person-years in 2015.
Spot prices for uranium have been low in part because of growing uranium inventories held by owners and operators of U.S. nuclear power reactors. From 2004 to 2015, owners and operators of U.S. nuclear power reactors purchased 677 million pounds of uranium, and 592 million pounds were loaded into U.S. nuclear power reactors. Since 2003, annual uranium purchases have exceeded the amount of uranium loaded into reactors. The amount of uranium fuel loaded into U.S. nuclear power reactors averaged 49 million pounds per year from 2004 through 2015, so uranium inventories totaling 121 million pounds at the end of 2015 could provide more than two years of uranium loadings.
Of the 3.6 million pounds of U.S.-produced uranium sold in 2015, 1.5 million pounds were purchased by owners and operators of U.S. nuclear power reactors from U.S. uranium concentrate producers. The remaining 2.1 million pounds were sold by U.S. producers to U.S. suppliers and foreign suppliers in 2015.
More information on the United States uranium industry is available in EIA’s Domestic Uranium Production Report – Annual, Domestic Uranium Production Report – Quarterly, and Uranium Marketing Annual Report.
Principal contributor: Doug Bonnar