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How Copper Riches Helped Shape Chile’s Economic Story

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Although Chile has always been noted for its abundant mineral wealth, the country was actually not a notable copper producer even at the beginning of the 20th century.

In 1907, for example, the United States was able to produce nearly 14X as much copper as Chile. The reality was that shortages in capital, organization, and water kept the country’s massive, low-grade deposits from being developed at any significant scale.

The Copper Standard

Things would change dramatically for Chile. The country has been the world’s top copper producer now for over 30 years, and today close to 50% of the country’s exports come from copper-related products.

Today’s infographic comes from Altiplano Minerals and it tells the story of how Chile tapped into its copper wealth to become the richest and freest economy in Latin America.

How Copper Riches Helped Shape Chile's Economic Story

New milling technology, economic reforms, and increasing investment attractiveness were catalysts that turned Chile into a copper powerhouse. In turn, copper exports helped propel the Chilean economy to new heights.

“The Miracle of Chile”

This incredible leap can be summed up aptly with two facts:

1) Copper production went from under 1 million tonnes per year (late-1970s) to over 5 million tonnes per year (2000s).
2) Despite this massive rise, copper as a percent of exports fell. It went from a peak of 80% of exports to closer to 50% today.

Over this time, as the economy diversified, Chilean GDP per capita (PPP) gained massive ground on the Latin American average and passed it in the early 1990s.

Chile’s GDP per capita (PPP) today is the highest in Latin America of major economies:

GDP per capita (2015, PPP)
Chile$24,170
Argentina$22,459
Mexico$18,370
Venezuela$17,430
Brazil$15,941
Colombia$14,164
Peru$12,639
Ecuador$11,839
Guatemala$7,704

That said, critics of Chile’s economy will point to its inequality. The country’s Gini Coefficient, according to the World Bank, is higher (less equal) than only a handful of Latin American & Caribbean economies: Panama, Belize, Haiti, Suriname, Honduras, and Colombia.

Mining in Chile Today

Today, Chile’s mines produce copper, gold, molybdenum, iron, and silver. The country also produces more lithium than any country from its salars.

The country is the world’s undisputed copper heavyweight champion – it’s been the top producer for 30+ years and holds an impressive seven of the world’s top 14 copper mines. The biggest mine, Escondida, produces over a million tonnes of the red metal each year, equal to 5% of the world’s annual copper supply.

The copper crown is likely to be held by Chile in the future, as well. According to Cochilco, between 2000-2015 about 35 copper deposits and three gold deposits were discovered in central-north Chile. They increased the country’s resources by 208.6 million tons of copper and 34.3 million oz of gold.

The new copper discovered is roughly equal to 30% of global discoveries over the same time period.

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Energy

Charted: Global Uranium Reserves, by Country

We visualize the distribution of the world’s uranium reserves by country, with 3 countries accounting for more than half of total reserves.

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A cropped chart visualizing the distribution of the global uranium reserves, by country.

Charted: Global Uranium Reserves, by Country

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

There can be a tendency to believe that uranium deposits are scarce from the critical role it plays in generating nuclear energy, along with all the costs and consequences related to the field.

But uranium is actually fairly plentiful: it’s more abundant than gold and silver, for example, and about as present as tin in the Earth’s crust.

We visualize the distribution of the world’s uranium resources by country, as of 2021. Figures come from the World Nuclear Association, last updated on August 2023.

Ranked: Uranium Reserves By Country (2021)

Australia, Kazakhstan, and Canada have the largest shares of available uranium resources—accounting for more than 50% of total global reserves.

But within these three, Australia is the clear standout, with more than 1.7 million tonnes of uranium discovered (28% of the world’s reserves) currently. Its Olympic Dam mine, located about 600 kilometers north of Adelaide, is the the largest single deposit of uranium in the world—and also, interestingly, the fourth largest copper deposit.

Despite this, Australia is only the fourth biggest uranium producer currently, and ranks fifth for all-time uranium production.

CountryShare of Global
Reserves
Uranium Reserves (Tonnes)
🇦🇺 Australia28%1.7M
🇰🇿 Kazakhstan13%815K
🇨🇦 Canada10%589K
🇷🇺 Russia8%481K
🇳🇦 Namibia8%470K
🇿🇦 South Africa5%321K
🇧🇷 Brazil5%311K
🇳🇪 Niger5%277K
🇨🇳 China4%224K
🇲🇳 Mongolia2%145K
🇺🇿 Uzbekistan2%131K
🇺🇦 Ukraine2%107K
🌍 Rest of World9%524K
Total100%6M

Figures are rounded.

Outside the top three, Russia and Namibia both have roughly the same amount of uranium reserves: about 8% each, which works out to roughly 470,000 tonnes.

South Africa, Brazil, and Niger all have 5% each of the world’s total deposits as well.

China completes the top 10, with a 3% share of uranium reserves, or about 224,000 tonnes.

A caveat to this is that current data is based on known uranium reserves that are capable of being mined economically. The total amount of the world’s uranium is not known exactly—and new deposits can be found all the time. In fact the world’s known uranium reserves increased by about 25% in the last decade alone, thanks to better technology that improves exploration efforts.

Meanwhile, not all uranium deposits are equal. For example, in the aforementioned Olympic Dam, uranium is recovered as a byproduct of copper mining occurring at the same site. In South Africa, it emerges as a byproduct during treatment of ores in the gold mining process. Orebodies with high concentrations of two substances can increase margins, as costs can be shared for two different products.

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