History of Uranium Production in Canada

Uranium was discovered in Canada in the mid-19th century on the north shore of Lake Superior. However, it wasn’t until 1930 that the first operations began by the “Eldorado Gold Mining Company” at the Port Radium deposit in the Northwest Territories (Great Bear Lake), which was initially mined for its radium content. Uranium exploration officially began at this site in 1942, following the establishment of the Manhattan Project by the Americans and their allies to develop the first nuclear weapon.

Due to the strategic nature of uranium, Canada initially prohibited all prospecting and exploitation of uranium across its territory. In 1943, the federal government took control of the Eldorado Company, transforming it into a state-owned enterprise named “Eldorado Mining and Refining Limited,” which later became “Eldorado Nuclear Ltd.” Consequently, uranium exploration was limited to the activities of Eldorado and the Geological Survey of Canada.

In the post-war period, uranium exploration gained momentum again after the lifting of the prohibition across Canadian territory. This led to significant discoveries in the late 1940s in northern Saskatchewan (Uranium City) and in the early 1950s in northern Ontario (Elliot Lake).

By the late 1950s, there were 23 uranium mines and 19 processing plants in operation. Canadian uranium production peaked in 1959, with more than 12,000 tonnes of uranium produced. Export revenues amounted to $330 million, making uranium the most exported mineral at the time and the fourth largest export product in Canada after newsprint, wheat, and lumber.

Uranium exploration slowed down in the 1960s due to decreased military demand, but it picked up again in the 1970s with the rise of nuclear power prospects. By the mid-1970s, market prices and activity levels had risen enough to significantly expand exploration and development. In 1977, the price of uranium reached an all-time high. Several uranium deposits were then discovered in the Athabasca Basin in northern Saskatchewan.

During the 1980s, Canada became the leading producer and exporter of uranium. Approximately 80% of Canada’s annual production was exported, mainly to the United States, Japan, and Western Europe.

Between 1970 and 1984, the uranium market was dominated by primary production that exceeded the actual needs of nuclear reactors. Consequently, the production of U3O8 significantly decreased between 1985 and 2003.

After the closure of the last uranium deposit at Elliot Lake in mid-1996, the Athabasca Basin in Saskatchewan became and remains the sole source of uranium in Canada. However, following the Three Mile Island incident, uranium overproduction caused a price drop that reached a historic low of $7 USD/lb in 2001.

In 2005, there was a resurgence in the uranium industry. The perception of an imminent shortage pushed the price of uranium to $136 USD/lb in 2007, revitalizing the uranium mining sector. Currently, Canada has three active uranium mines and concentration plants, as well as one mine under construction, all located in northern Saskatchewan. Hundreds of uranium exploration projects are also active across the country. With its known resources of approximately 572,000 tonnes of U3O8 and ongoing exploration projects, Canada is likely to play a significant role in meeting future global demand. The country is currently the world’s second-largest uranium producer, after Kazakhstan (WNA, 2012).

Sources :

World Nuclear Association. 2012. Uranium in Canada.

Link : http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf49.html

World Nuclear Association. Brief History of Uranium Mining in Canada.

Link : http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf49i_Canada_Uranium_Mining_Historya.html

Commission canadienne de sûreté nucléaire. 2012. Mines et usines de concentration d’uranium au Canada.

Link : http://nuclearsafety.gc.ca/fr/about/regulated/minesmills/index.cfm

L’Encyclopédie canadienne. Uranium.

Link : http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=f1SEC859354

Ministère des Ressources naturelles et de la Faune. 2005. L’uranium : un vent d’optimisme.

Link : http://www.mrnf.gouv.qc.ca/mines/quebec-mines/2005-11/uranium.asp

Ministère des Ressources naturelles et de la Faune. 2007. L’exploration de l’uranium au Québec – une mise à jour.

Link : http://www.mrnf.gouv.qc.ca/mines/quebec-mines/2009-02/uranium.asp

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