Uranium and nuclear power facts

Uranium is a silvery-white metal and a primary energy source. After raw uranium is mined and milled, it is processed to make fuel for nuclear reactors to generate electricity.

Key facts

  • Canada is the second largest producer and exporter of uranium in the world, with 23% of global production in 2016.
  • Nuclear power generation accounted for 15% of Canada’s electricity in 2015. Nuclear power is a source of energy that does not emit greenhouse gases.
  • In 2016, 88% of Canada’s uranium production was exported for use in nuclear power throughout the world.
  • 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.
  • Under Canada’s nuclear non-proliferation policy, Canadian uranium can be used only for peaceful purposes.

Learn more about uranium and nuclear power

International context

Uranium

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

World production
World production–62.0 kilotonnes, 2016 (p)
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 kilotonnes, 2016 (p)
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 million tonnes (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:

Share of world nuclear power production, by country, 2016
Percentage of total

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This pie chart shows the share of world nuclear power production by country for 2016. The United States had the largest share (33%), followed by France (16%), China (8%), Russia (7%), South Korea (6%) and Canada (4%). The remaining countries accounted for 27% of world nuclear power production.

World generation–2,476 tera-watt-hours, 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

Nuclear energy is a major part of the Canadian landscape from coast to coast. Nuclear power stations operate in Ontario and New Brunswick. Uranium mining, refining and fuel fabrication steps are completed in Saskatchewan and Ontario.

There is a strong nuclear science and technology presence across Canada, including the production of isotopes for medical and industrial applications.

Canadian supply and demand, 2016

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This map shows that 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 and uses

Uranium is primarily used to produce fuel for nuclear power plants (more than 99% of total use). Other uses of uranium (less than 1%) include the production of medical isotopes and fuel for research reactors.

Canadian production of uranium was 14 kilotonnes in 2016. All uranium comes from mines in Saskatchewan and has an annual value of approximately $2 billion

Key facts

  • The high-grade McArthur River mine and the Key Lake mill, the world’s largest uranium production facilities in terms of annual production, produced 6,928 tonnes of uranium in 2016.
  • An additional 17 tonnes of uranium were produced at the Key Lake mill during 2016 by recycling uranium refinery wastes.
  • In 2016, output at the high-grade Cigar Lake mine and the McClean Lake mill increased substantially to 6,666 tonnes of uranium, making them the world’s second largest uranium production facilities in terms of annual production.
  • The Cigar Lake mine is expected to be in full production by the end of 2017 with an annual output of 6,900 tonnes of uranium.
  • In mid-2016, production at the Rabbit Lake mine and mill, with an annual output of 428 tonnes of uranium, was suspended due to low prices.

Canadian production of uranium, 2007–2016

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This bar graph shows Canada’s annual mine production of uranium from 2007 to 2016. Production from 2007 to 2014 was fairly stable, averaging approximately 9,380 tU per year. Since 2014, increased output from the Cigar Lake mine has resulted in record uranium production for Canada. Production in 2015 was 13,325 tU, a 46% increase over 2014 production. Uranium production increased a further 6% in 2016, setting a record of 14,039 tU.

Canadian production of uranium, by mine/mill, 2016

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This pie chart shows uranium production by mine/mill as a percentage of Canada’s total production in 2016. McArthur River/Key Lake had the largest share with 49.41%, followed by Cigar Lake (47.54%) and Rabbit Lake (3.05%).

Further refining and conversion of uranium occurs in Ontario to produce uranium hexafluoride and uranium dioxide.

Approximately 88% of Canada’s uranium production is exported. In 2016, these exports had a total value of over $1.8 billion. 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 6 nuclear power stations in Canada, which have a combined capacity of 14,299 megawatts. The Bruce generating station is the largest operating nuclear power plant in the world.

Nuclear power plants in Canada, location and capacity, 2016
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

Prices

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

The average monthly spot market uranium price declined steadily throughout 2015 and 2016 to reach a 12-year low of US$18 per pound before rebounding to US$20 per pound by the end of 2016.

Spot prices of uranium, 003–2017

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This line chart shows the average monthly spot market uranium (U3O8) price in U.S. dollars per pound from 2003 to 2017. Uranium spot prices surged from about $10 per pound in 2003 to almost $140 in early 2007. Prices then quickly dropped to around $50 in late 2008 and continued to decrease slowly to about $20 in 2017.

Canadian nuclear research and development

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

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 nuclear medicine, pharmacology, environmental protection and wastewater treatment, among others.

Small modular reactors (SMRs) are nuclear reactors that operate at a smaller scale than current nuclear power plants. Although not yet commercially proven in Canada, they may have future applications as a replacement to fossil fuel power plants or as load-following units equipped with systems for storing excess electricity to complement larger shares of variable renewables.

SMRs may also have applications in the production of heat and electricity at both on- and off-grid industrial sites, and to help off-grid northern and remote communities reduce their reliance on diesel.

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.

World locations of CANDU reactors

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This map shows that, outside of Canada, CANDU nuclear power technology exists in Argentina, Romania, Pakistan, India, China and South Korea.

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

Learn more about Canadian Nuclear Energy Technology.

Find out more about minerals and metals facts

Notes and sources

(p) preliminary

All dollars are Canadian unless otherwise indicated.

International context

Supply and demand

Gross capacity of nuclear power plants in Canada

  • Nuclear power plants in Canada, location and capacity, 2016
    • compiled by Natural Resources Canada from Statistics Canada and other public sources

Prices

CANDU nuclear reactors

  • World locations of CANDU reactors