By most measures, production of uranium concentrate (U3O8) remained at or near all-time lows in the United States during 2021, at 21,000 pounds—less than 1% of the post-2000 production high of 4.9 million pounds U3O8 in 2014, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). As domestic production has declined, an increasing amount of the uranium purchased for use in US commercial nuclear power reactors has been from other countries.
In 2021, owners and operators of commercial nuclear power reactors bought 46.7 million pounds (lb) U3O8 equivalent (U3O8e) at an average price of $33.91/lb U3O8e. Purchase volume in 2020 was only slightly higher than in 2021, although the purchase price was slightly lower—48.9 million pounds at an average price of $33.27/lb U3O8e.
Most of uranium purchased in the United States in 2021 was imported (95%), which is typical under conditions of low domestic uranium production. Kazakhstan was the top source for uranium in 2021, accounting for 35% of total US uranium purchases, followed by Canada at 15% and Australia at 14%.
Domestic nuclear power plant operators purchased enrichment service contracts for processing 14 million separative work units (SWU) in 2021. SWU is the measure of effort required to separate uranium isotopes during the enrichment process. The average price of $99.54/SWU in 2021 was nearly the same as in 2020.
Most of the uranium used in the United States is processed abroad. In 2021, 19% of SWU originated in the United States, and 81% originated in other countries. Most SWU that originated in other countries came from Russia (28%), the United Kingdom (17%), Germany (13%), and the Netherlands (11%).
Commercial uranium inventories include uranium in different stages of the nuclear fuel cycle: in-process for conversion, enrichment, or fabrication. Total US commercial inventories were 141.7 million pounds U3O8e at the end of 2021, up 8% from 131 million pounds at the end of 2020.
Commercial nuclear power plant operators own most of the uranium inventory held in the United States. At the end of 2021, US commercial nuclear power plant operators owned 108.5 million pounds of U3O8e, a 2% increase in power plant-owned inventories from the year-end 2020 level. Uranium inventories owned by US suppliers of all types, including converters, enrichers, fabricators, producers, brokers, and traders, totaled 33.2 million pounds U3O8e at the end of 2021, up 37% from the end of 2020.