Between 2014 and 2016, the amount of uranium concentrate produced in the United States decreased 40% to 2.9 million pounds U3O8, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The level of production was the lowest since 2005 and was impacted by declining uranium prices, which fell to $18 per pound in November, from $34 a pound in January 2016.
Production of uranium concentrate, which is refined uranium ore, reached 44 million pounds in 1980. Since 1990, production has fallen to about 4 million pounds annually. Most of the uranium needed for domestic nuclear generation comes from other countries and is enriched in the United States. Between 2012 and 2016, nearly 90% of uranium purchased by U.S. nuclear power reactors was from another country.
In the first quarter of 2017, production of uranium concentrate was 450,000 pounds. If production continues at the rate for the remainder of the year, annual production would be at the lowest level since 1952.
Uranium prices have been on a downward trend since their peak of $135 per pound in June 2007. In November, the spot price reached the lowest level since May 2004. After the prices started to fall, the number of workers in the market began declining. Employment peaked at 1,563 employees in 2008 but has since fallen to 560 in 2016, the lowest number since 2004. Uranium exploration employment has been hit the hardest, declining to 38 employees in 2016, from 457 in 2008.
Total inventories of uranium have risen to 144 million pounds U3O8 equivalent in 2016, the highest level since 1988. Inventories have increased in most years since 2003, when commercial uranium inventories were 85 million pounds.