Uranium price forecast: Can it continue to recoup loses?
Uranium prices have fallen from their highest levels in more than a decade to below $50 per pound (lb) as the protracted war between Russia and Ukraine has heightened concerns about security of supply.
Global uranium production was already in decline prior to the conflict, due to miners shelving new projects and scaling back operations during a decade of depressed prices. The Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, which hampered travel, also interrupted mining operations.
The supply issues arise at a time when many nations are thinking about using nuclear power plants to produce electricity and so lessen their reliance on fossil fuels like coal, gas and oil. The future availability of the mineral after the construction of the new plants has come into question.
It’s important to remember that uranium isn’t traded like other commodities on the open market. Buyers and sellers instead negotiate privately.
As the war in Ukraine is unlikely to resolve anytime soon, and as a slowing global economy could affect the financing of new projects, where will uranium prices go next? Read this analysis to learn more about the uranium price forecast for 2023 and beyond.
What is uranium?
According to the World Nuclear Association, uranium is a heavy metal that has been used as a concentrated energy source for more than 60 years. German chemist Martin Heinrich Klaproth discovered the nuclear fuel in 1789 when analysing a mineral called pitchblende.
The chemical element is silvery-white and can be found in soil, rock and water. It is extracted from uranium-rich minerals, such as uraninite. Uranium ore can be mined either open-pit or underground, and then crushed and treated in a mill to extract the valuable uranium from it.
The mined uranium is then processed, stored and sold as uranium oxide concentrate (U3O8).
Australia has the world’s biggest uranium resources, accounting for 28%. Kazakhstan ranks second in terms of resources with 15%, but the country is the world’s top uranium producer. Kazakhstan accounted for roughly 40% of global uranium output in 2020.
What is uranium used for?
Uranium was first used to colour ceramic glazes and tint early photographs. It was not until the mid-20th century that its potential as an energy source was realised. Today, it is used to generate electricity in commercial nuclear reactors and create isotopes used in medicine, industry and defence.
Uranium is only sold to countries that have signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), which was introduced on 1 July 1968 and aims to limit the spread of nuclear weapons. The NPT’s signatories are subject to international inspection to ensure they only use uranium for peaceful purposes.
In nuclear reactors, uranium is used to generate about 10% of the world’s electricity. There were 436 operable nuclear reactors globally in 2021, down five from 2020, according to World Nuclear Association data.
While the number of operable reactors was decreasing, the total capacity of reactors producing electricity in 2021 was 370GWe (gigawatts of electrical capacity), an increase of 1GWe from 2020 and the highest total capacity in any single year, according to the association.
Uranium market: Supply-demand projection
The World Nuclear Association released The Nuclear Fuel Report: Global Scenarios for Demand and Supply Availability 2021–2040 in September last year. The report forecast that uranium demand from the world’s nuclear reactors was expected to rise to 79,400 metric tonnes of elemental uranium (MTU) in 2030, and 112,300 MTU in 2040. In 2021, global uranium demand from nuclear reactors was estimated at 62,500 MTU.
On the supply side, however, global uranium production plunged to 47,731 MTU in 2020, down from 63,207 MTU in 2016 due to a prolonged price depression, which discouraged exploration activities. Additionally, the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 restricted mobility and cut uranium production.
A joint report by the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 2020 showed that global uranium output met nearly 90% of world reactor demand, dropping from 95% in 2017. The remainder was supplied from secondary sources, including excess government and commercial inventories.
The report also stated that meeting world reactor requirements up to 2040 would consume about 87% of the total 2019 identified resources base recoverable of 6,147,800 tonnes of uranium metal (MTU).
Unlike other commodities such as gold, nickel or copper, there is no formal exchange to trade uranium. Instead, the fuel trade is negotiated directly between buyers and sellers. The New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) recently offered a uranium futures contract.
Additionally, a small number of private businesses and organisations such as UxC LLC independently monitor the uranium market and develop price indicators.
The fuel can be sold under a spot market contract that typically consists of only one delivery, or a long-term contract that ranges from two to 10 years. About 85% of all uranium is sold under a long-term contract.
Another factor that distinguishes uranium from other minerals is the role of state-owned enterprises, as well as the disconnect between where uranium is produced and where it is consumed, according to Canadian uranium producer, Cameco Corporation (CCOca).
According to the Saskatoon-based miner, state-owned enterprises control nearly 80% of uranium primary production. Over 70% of production comes from countries that consume little to no uranium, and nearly 90% of consumption is by countries that produce little to no uranium.
“As a result, government-driven trade policies and, more recently, actions taken in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, can be particularly disruptive for the uranium market,” the company said in a management’s discussion on 30 November 2022.
Uranium price history overview
According to data from TradingEconomics, uranium futures price took a nosedive following the Fukushima nuclear plant meltdown in May 2011 and stayed low until 2021.
Uranium’s value started to rise in the last quarter of 2021, hitting a nine-year high of $48/lb in September. The price spiked after Toronto-based investment fund Sprott Asset Management LP began buying up millions of pounds of excess supply for a new trust, S&P Global reported. Political instability in the world’s biggest uranium producer, Kazakhstan, has also driven up uranium prices.
The uranium futures price eased to $45/lb in the last days of 2021 and in January 2022. It started to climb towards $50/lb in early March 2022, following the invasion of Ukraine, and hit $64.50/lb in the middle of April. This was the highest price since mid-2011.
At the time of writing on 7 December 2022, the uranium futures price had eased to $48.30/lb. Despite recent weakness, uranium prices remain elevated in 2022 compared to previous years and have gained about 12% year-to-date (YTD), owing to tight supply.
On the physical market, uranium spot prices had eased to $49.88/lb in November, from this year’s high of $58.20 in March, according to prices from UxC and TradeTech calculated by Cameco. But that was higher than $43.08 in January 2022, and up from $45.75 in November 2021.
The long-term price calculated by Cameco using TradeTech’s data showed the long-term price increased to $52 in November, from $42.88 in January 2022. It also jumped nearly 21% from $43/lb year-over-year (YoY).
David Talbot, managing director for equity research at Toronto-based Red Cloud Securities, said in the Market Mindset discussion:
Talbot added that higher uranium prices might help miners to restart idle mines, bringing supply to narrow a gap of 40 million pounds between current supply and demand.
Uranium news: Russian uranium escape sanctions, supply shortfalls to persist
Before we look into the uranium price forecast from analysts, let’s examine some recent news that has influenced current prices.
Western sanctions exclude Russian uranium
A slew of sanctions from western nations against Russia’s energy sources, particularly oil and gas, have so far avoided a ban on the country’s uranium. The idea of banning Russian uranium was discussed in European Union circles, but was never formally proposed due to reliance on the country’s uranium supply, Investigate Europe reported.
According to Cameco, Russia provides approximately 14% of the world’s uranium concentrate supply, 27% of conversion supply, and 39% of enrichment capacity. Enrichment capacity is crucial as it increases the concentration of Uranium-235, the most significant uranium fissile isotope for reactor fuel and nuclear weapons.
Despite the fact that there are no official sanctions against Russian uranium exports at this time, utilities are beginning to secure future supply from anywhere other than Russia, according to FNArena’s uranium weekly report on 6 December 2022.
“This is likely because the war is already creating an oil and gas supply crisis, sending global electricity price soaring, so take nuclear out of the equation as well and things would only be worse,” it said.
According to Cameco, the war has created transportation risks in the region. Sanctions imposed on Russia, government restrictions, and restrictions on and cancellations of some cargo insurance coverage all contribute to uncertainty about the reliability of Central Asian fuel supply shipments.
The company said:
Potential supply shortfalls to support prices
Australia’s Department of Industry, Science & Resources said in a report on 4 October 2022 that potential shortfalls in global supply and rising demand could support uranium prices.
The prospects of nuclear deployment have improved, particularly in Asia, with countries such as Japan and South Korea have reversed their policies to phase out nuclear power.
South Korea is set to begin full operation of its Shin Hanul 1 nuclear reactor in the first week of December 2022, after it completed 12 years of construction, news agency Yonhap reported on 6 December 2022.
The Japanese government under Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has announced a new energy policy which includes sourcing 20%-22% of electricity from nuclear power by fiscal year 2030, reported The Diplomat on 14 November 2022.
Other countries have also moved to increase their nuclear power capacity. In August, the US government passed the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 which includes a Production Tax Credit to support existing nuclear reactors and $700m for the development of high-assay, low-enriched uranium.
On the supply side, scaling up production to meet demand could be a challenge over the medium term after years of under-investment, said Australia’s Department of Industry, Science and Resources in its October report.
“Many projects were placed in hiatus or paused during the long run of low prices after 2011, and will require significant time to reopen or finalise. However, progress is picking up,” it said.
Uranium price outlook
In its October uranium price predictions, Australia’s Department of Industry, Science and Resources projected uranium spot prices to reach $57.90/lb in 2023 and $59.60/lb in 2024, up from $51 in 2022 due to supply risks.
“Uranium mines typically take a long time to obtain approvals, potentially drawing out any supply shortages over the longer term and creating a baseline for structurally higher prices over the rest of the 2020s,” the agency said.
The uranium price forecast from TradingEconomics as of 6 December 2022 predicted the fuel could trade at $50.22/lb by the fourth quarter of 2022. The economic data provider set the uranium price target at $53.40/lb in 12 months’ time.
Algorithm-based price predicting service Wallet Investor was also bullish on uranium, rating the mineral as an “acceptable” long-term (1-year) investment.
Wallet Investor’s uranium price forecast for 2023 saw the fuel trading at $41.254/lb by December 2023. The service’s uranium price forecast for 2025 saw the mineral potentially reaching a price of $44.186 in August 2025. It did not provide a uranium price forecast for 2030.
Meanwhile, research conducted by Dominik Kryzia and Linda Gawlik of the Mineral and Energy Economy Research Institute in Krakow, Poland, showed an uranium price forecast for 2030. The research estimated a value of $107.70 per kilogram (kg) in 2030, based on the costs of uranium deposit exploitation.
Note that analysts’ forecasts can be wrong. Forecasts shouldn’t be used as a substitute for your own research. Always conduct your own due diligence before investing, and never invest or trade any money you cannot afford to lose.
Is uranium a good investment?
Whether uranium is a suitable investment for you depends on your investing goals and risk profile. You should do your own research and never invest what you cannot afford to lose. As always, keep in mind that past performance is no indicator of future returns.
Why has the uranium price been going up?
Geopolitical uncertainties due to political upheavals in the world’s leading producer Kazakhstan and the conflict between Russia and Ukraine are affecting supply-and-demand balances.
Countries are also seeking to restart or add nuclear capacity amid sky-high coal, oil and gas prices, which has also contributed to the price rally.
Will uranium go up or down?
Uranium price predictions from Australia”s Department of Industry, Science and Resources, TradingEconomics and Wallet Investor all indicated that prices were expected to rise in the future.
However, analysts’ forecasts can be wrong. Always do your own research before investing.
What affects the price of uranium?
As with other commodities, mining production disruptions such as natural disasters or political unrest can affect uranium prices.
In addition, electricity demand, which subsequently increases the need to build power plants, also affects uranium prices.
Should I invest in uranium?
That is something you will have to make your own mind up about, once you have performed due diligence and carried out your own thorough research – this article does not consititute financial advice.
If you do decide to invest, you should keep in mind that uranium is not traded on the open markets, though the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) does offer sophisticated futures contracts.