The World’s Most Valuable Substances by Weight
The World’s Most Valuable Substances by Weight
In the field of economics, the laws of supply and demand state that the price of a product and its available supply to the market are interconnected. For example, if a good such as crude oil is produced in excess, the price will drop accordingly.
However, sometimes substances are nearly impossible to produce in the first place – and that means that it can be extremely difficult for the market to respond to increases in demand. The world’s most valuable substances generally fall into this category, and this makes their value per gram very high.
White truffles, for instance, only grow for a couple of months of the year almost exclusively from one part of Italy. They must be foraged by special pigs, and they seem to be worth more every year. The price per gram for white truffles is $5, which means that a pound costs close to $2,000.
Despite this, white truffles barely crack the list of the most valuable substances by weight.
Saffron, a spice that is gathered from the flower of the crocus sativus plant, is another notch higher on the spectrum. To get one pound of dry saffron requires the harvest of 50,000 to 75,000 flowers. There’s only 300 tonnes of production each year, and that annual production is worth around $3 billion.
Higher up on the list of the world’s most valuable substances are some familiar metals. Silver does not make the list, as it is only worth around $0.50 per gram. However, many of the platinum group metals (PGMs) do make the list: platinum, palladium, rhodium, and iridium all range between $16 to $27 per gram. Gold also makes the list, and it has traded for more than an ounce of platinum since early 2015. One gram of gold is worth just under $34 per gram.
At the top of the list we find a combination of extremely rare metals, radioactive isotopes, and gemstones.
The radioactive element Californium, first made in 1950, is the most valuable at $27 million per gram. It is one of the few transuranium elements that have practical applications, being used in microscopic amounts for metal detectors and in identifying oil and water layers in oil wells.
Diamonds are near the top of the list as well at $65,000 per gram, though like many other gemstones, the value depends on the specific crystal in question. Many industrial diamonds are relatively cheap, but the rarest and most beautiful stones can be worth millions.
Iranian beluga caviar and Crème de la Mer are the most expensive non-metals or non-gemstones on the list. Iranian caviar is made from the roe of beluga sturgeons found in the Caspian Sea, and it is valued at about $35 per gram. Crème de la Mer was originally created by a physicist for NASA to heal his burns, but it is now sold as a face cream by Estée Lauder for $70 per gram.
Original graphic by: BullionVault
Visualizing the Uranium Mining Industry in 3 Charts
These visuals highlight the uranium mining industry and its output, as well as the trajectory of nuclear energy from 1960 to today.
When uranium was discovered in 1789 by Martin Heinrich Klaproth, it’s likely the German chemist didn’t know how important the element would become to human life.
Used minimally in glazing and ceramics, uranium was originally mined as a byproduct of producing radium until the late 1930s. However, the discovery of nuclear fission, and the potential promise of nuclear power, changed everything.
What’s the current state of the uranium mining industry? This series of charts from Truman Du highlights production and the use of uranium using 2021 data from the World Nuclear Association (WNA) and Our World in Data.
Who are the Biggest Uranium Miners in the World?
Most of the world’s biggest uranium suppliers are based in countries with the largest uranium deposits, like Australia, Kazakhstan, and Canada.
The largest of these companies is Kazatomprom, a Kazakhstani state-owned company that produced 25% of the world’s new uranium supply in 2021.
As seen in the above chart, 94% of the roughly 48,000 tonnes of uranium mined globally in 2021 came from just 13 companies.
|Rank||Company||2021 Uranium Production (tonnes)||Percent of Total|
|3||🇷🇺 Uranium One||4,514||9%|
|6||🇺🇿 Navoi Mining||3,500||7%|
|9||🇦🇺 General Atomics/Quasar||2,241||5%|
|11||🇬🇧 Energy Asia||900||2%|
France’s Orano, another state-owned company, was the world’s second largest producer of uranium at 4,541 tonnes.
Companies rounding out the top five all had similar uranium production numbers to Orano, each contributing around 9% of the global total. Those include Uranium One from Russia, Cameco from Canada, and CGN in China.
Where are the Largest Uranium Mines Found?
The majority of uranium deposits around the world are found in 16 countries with Australia, Kazakhstan, and Canada accounting for for nearly 40% of recoverable uranium reserves.
But having large reserves doesn’t necessarily translate to uranium production numbers. For example, though Australia has the biggest single deposit of uranium (Olympic Dam) and the largest reserves overall, the country ranks fourth in uranium supplied, coming in at 9%.
Here are the top 10 uranium mines in the world, accounting for 53% of the world’s supply.
Of the largest mines in the world, four are found in Kazakhstan. Altogether, uranium mined in Kazakhstan accounted for 45% of the world’s uranium supply in 2021.
|Uranium Mine||Country||Main Owner||2021 Production|
|Cigar Lake||🇨🇦 Canada||Cameco/Orano||4,693t|
|Inkai 1-3||🇰🇿 Kazakhstan||Kazaktomprom/Cameco||3,449t|
|Husab||🇳🇦 Namibia||Swakop Uranium (CGN)||3,309t|
|Karatau (Budenovskoye 2)||🇰🇿 Kazakhstan||Uranium One/Kazatomprom||2,561t|
|Four Mile||🇦🇺 Australia||Quasar||2,241t|
|Olympic Dam||🇦🇺 Australia||BHP Billiton||1,922t|
|Central Mynkuduk||🇰🇿 Kazakhstan||Ortalyk||1,579t|
|Kharasan 1||🇰🇿 Kazakhstan||Kazatomprom/Uranium One||1,579t|
Namibia, which has two of the five largest uranium mines in operation, is the second largest supplier of uranium by country, at 12%, followed by Canada at 10%.
Interestingly, the owners of these mines are not necessarily local. For example, France’s Orano operates mines in Canada and Niger. Russia’s Uranium One operates mines in Kazakhstan, the U.S., and Tanzania. China’s CGN owns mines in Namibia.
And despite the African continent holding a sizable amount of uranium reserves, no African company placed in the top 10 biggest companies by production. Sopamin from Niger was the highest ranked at #12 with 809 tonnes mined.
Uranium Mining and Nuclear Energy
Uranium mining has changed drastically since the first few nuclear power plants came online in the 1950s.
For 30 years, uranium production grew steadily due to both increasing demand for nuclear energy and expanding nuclear arsenals, eventually peaking at 69,692 tonnes mined in 1980 at the height of the Cold War.
Nuclear energy production (measured in terawatt-hours) also rose consistently until the 21st century, peaking in 2001 when it contributed nearly 7% to the world’s energy supply. But in the years following, it started to drop and flatline.
By 2021, nuclear energy had fallen to 4.3% of global energy production. Several nuclear accidents—Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and Fukushima—contributed to turning sentiment against nuclear energy.
|% of Total Energy|
More recently, a return to nuclear energy has gained some support as countries push for transitions to cleaner energy, since nuclear power generates no direct carbon emissions.
What’s Next for Nuclear Energy?
Nuclear remains one of the least harmful sources of energy, and some countries are pursuing advancements in nuclear tech to fight climate change.
Small, modular nuclear reactors are one of the current proposed solutions to both bring down costs and reduce construction time of nuclear power plants. The benefits include smaller capital investments and location flexibility by trading off energy generation capacity.
With countries having to deal with aging nuclear reactors and climate change at the same time, replacements need to be considered. Will they come in the form of new nuclear power and uranium mining, or alternative sources of energy?
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