Production of uranium in the US dropped in 2015 to the lowest level in ten years, figures released by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) show.
In the fourth quarter of the year alone, uranium concentrate output hit 85,048 pounds U3O8 (225 tU), its lowest level since 2002, and 46% less than what the country produced in the same quarter of 2014.
All of the fourth quarter’s production came from four in-situ leach operations, including Wyoming-based Lost Creek (Ur-Energy), Nichols Ranch (Energy Fuels) and Smith Ranch-Highland (Cameco), as well as Crow Butte (Cameco), in Nebraska.
The energy watchdog attributes the output drop to depressed prices for spot uranium, used to make fuel for nuclear power production. The commodity has traded at historical lows since the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan, which led to the shutdown of all reactors in that country, generating burdensome stockpiles globally.
Prices have remained stuck around $35 a pound, or about 40% lower than in March, 2011, right after Fukushima. But experts believe that recovery is just a matter of time, based on supply and demand outlooks.
Canadian uranium producer Cameco (TSX:CCO)(NYSE:CCJ), the world’s second-largest uranium producer, said earlier this month that China is building 24 reactors to produce power from nuclear fuel.
The company forecast an increase in the total number of nuclear reactors operating globally — from 439 in 2015 to 450 this year and to 497 reactors by 2025.
As demand grows, there are few new sources of supply to keep pace, as depressed prices continue to discourage exploration and new mines.
The EIA’s annual report of domestic uranium production is due to be published in May.