Uranium and nuclear power

What is uranium and nuclear power?

Uranium is a silvery-white metal and a primary energy source. After raw uranium is mined, milled, refined and converted, it fuels nuclear reactors to generate electricity.

Key facts

  • Canada is the 2nd largest producer and exporter of uranium in the world, with 88% of production exported for use in nuclear power throughout the world
  • Nuclear power generation accounted for 15% of Canada’s electricity in 2015. Nuclear power is a non-GHG emitting source of energy
  • Canada has developed a unique nuclear reactor technology (CANDU); there are 18 CANDU reactors in Ontario, 1 in New Brunswick and 12 in operation outside of Canada

Learn more about uranium and nuclear power in Canada

International context

Uranium

Find out how Canada’s uranium ranks on an international scale:

World production
World production – 62.0 kt (2016, preliminary)
Rank Country Percentage of Total
1 Kazahkstan 40%
2 Canada 23%
3 Australia 10%
4 Niger 6%
5 Namibia 5%
World exports
World exports – 52.8 kt (2016, preliminary)
Rank Country Percentage of Total
1 Kazakhstan 47%
2 Canada 23%
3 Australia 12%
4 Niger 7%
5 Namibia 6%
World known recoverable resources
World known recoverable resources – 5.7 Mt (at the beginning of 2015)
Rank Country Percentage of Total
1 Australia 29%
2 Kazakhstan 13%
3 Canada 9%
4 Russia 9%
5 South Africa 6%

Nuclear power

Find out how Canada’s nuclear power ranks on an international scale:

World generation – 2,476 TWh (2016)
Rank Country Percentage of Total
1 United States 33%
2 France 16%
3 China 8%
4 Russia 7%
5 South Korea 6%
6 Canada 4%
7 Germany 3%
8 United Kingdom 3%

Supply and demand

Uranium is generated, converted, mined and refined across the country. The Canadian nuclear energy industry is mainly concentrated in Ontario, but has a presence in Saskatchewan, Quebec and New Brunswick.

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All uranium comes from mines in Saskatchewan, but uranium processing, refining, conversion, fuel fabrication, research, and waste management happens across Canada. Nuclear power stations are located in Ontario and New Brunswick.

Uranium production

Canadian production of uranium was 14.0 kiltonnes (kt) in 2016. All uranium comes from mines in Saskatchewan and has an annual value of approximately $2.0 billion. Further refining and conversion of uranium occurs in Ontario to produce uranium hexafluoride (UF6) and uranium dioxide (UO2).

Exports are approximately 88% of production. Based on long-term contracts (whose values can vary based on changes in regional demand), uranium from Canadian mines is generally sold in Asia (49%), North America/Latin America (31%), and Europe (20%). In 2016, 22% of uranium purchased by U.S. nuclear reactors came from Canada, making Canada the largest foreign supplier of uranium to the U.S.

Domestic use in Canada’s CANDU reactors in Ontario and New Brunswick is approximately 12% of production.

Gross capacity of nuclear power plants in Canada

There are six nuclear power stations in Canada that have a combined capacity of 14,299 megawatts (MW). The Bruce generating station is the largest operating nuclear power plant in world.

Facility Province Total capacity (MW) Units
Darlington Ontario 3,740 4
Bruce A Ontario 3,220 4
Bruce B Ontario 3,390 4
Pickering A Ontario 1,084 4
Pickering B Ontario 2,160 2
Point Lepreau New Brunswick 705 1

Uranium prices

The majority of Canadian uranium production is sold via long-term contract, as opposed to on the spot market. In the short term, spot prices do not have a significant impact on the annual value of Canada’s uranium production.

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Uranium spot prices surged from about 10 dollars per pound in 2003 to almost 140 dollars in early 2007. Prices then quickly dropped to around 50 dollars in late 2008 and continued to decrease slowly to about 20 dollars in 2017.

Canadian nuclear research and development

Canada has nuclear research and development capabilities, which are supported by academic research centers, the private sector, and government laboratories—including Chalk River Laboratories, Canada’s largest science and technology facility.

Nuclear energy research is focused on supporting existing reactor technologies as well as next generation nuclear energy systems. Canada is also a leader in nuclear R&D for areas such as pharmacology, environmental protection, and wastewater treatment, amongst others.

Small modular reactors (SMRs) are a developing technology with various potential applications, including replacing fossil fuel power plants to provide electricity to the grid, providing non-emitting heat and power at remote mines, and to complement renewables in replacing diesel in northern communities.

CANDU nuclear reactors

Canada has developed a unique nuclear reactor technology called CANDU and is one of roughly half a dozen countries that offer domestic-designed reactors to the open commercial market.

In addition to Canada, CANDU reactors have been sold to India, Pakistan, Argentina, South Korea, Romania and China.

Text version

Outside of Canada, Canada Deuterium Uranium nuclear power technology, CANDU for short, exists in Argentina, Romania, Pakistan, India, China, and South Korea.

CANDU technology continues to evolve to enable the use of alternative fuels. Work is underway in Chinese CANDU reactors to demonstrate that they can recycle used fuel from other nuclear power plants, reducing the volume of nuclear waste.

Sources