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US Uranium Mining and Exploration

US Nuclear Fuel Cycle Appendix 1

(Updated 30 June 2015)

Uranium mining in the USA today is undertaken by few companies on a relatively small scale. Uranium exploration is undertaken by many companies, often going over areas that were mined in the 1950s-80s.

Uranium production is from one mill (White Mesa, Utah) fed by four or five underground mines and several in-situ leach (ISL) operations 1 is tabulated below.

Year Tonnes U produced Hardrock mills ISL operations at year end
2006 1583 White Mesa Crow Butte, Smith Ranch-Highland, Alta Mesa, Kingsville Dome, Vasquez
2007 1748 White Mesa Crow Butte, Smith Ranch-Highland, Alta Mesa, Kingsville Dome
2008 1503 White Mesa Crow Butte, Smith Ranch-Highland, Alta Mesa, Rosita, Kingsville Dome
2009 1445 White Mesa Crow Butte, Smith Ranch-Highland, Alta Mesa
2010 1630 White Mesa Crow Butte, Smith Ranch-Highland, Alta Mesa, La Palangana
2011 1538 White Mesa Crow Butte, Smith Ranch-Highland, Alta Mesa, La Palangana, Willow Creek
2012 1596 White Mesa Crow Butte, Smith Ranch-Highland, Alta Mesa, La Palangana, Willow Creek
2013 1796 White Mesa Crow Butte, Smith Ranch-Highland, Alta Mesa, Hobson/La Palangana, Willow Creek, Lost Creek
2014 1919 White Mesa Crow Butte, Smith Ranch-Highland, Hobson/La Palangana, Willow Creek, Lost Creek, Nichols Ranch

Most US uranium-producing states are 'agreement states' vis a vis the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and have authority to issue permits and regulate uranium mining and milling. NRC's role is then confined to oversight. NRC itself currently provides oversight of three ISL sites and one conventional uranium mill. In mid-2012 it was reviewing eight applications for new uranium processing sites, renewal of existing sites, or expansion of sites, and anticipated 16 more applications for uranium processing, including five conventional mills. In February 2015 Wyoming, the major uranium production state, passed legislation to make it an agreement state, along with all the other uranium-producing states. Under a 2010 agreement NRC collaborates with the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on environmental assessment of mine proposals. In 2014 more than two-thirds of US uranium production came from Wyoming’s Powder River Basin.

However, land access is partly controlled by the US government, and in 2011 the Interior Secretary issued an order banning new hardrock uranium mining in about 4000 square km of land in Arizona for 20 years, which sterilized 145,000 tU of known resources according to the NEI and also much prospective ground. The industry contends that uranium exploration and mining here would not compromise the Grand Canyon watershed. The land is not within the Grand Canyon National Park or the buffer zone protecting the national park. The industry contends that that the land withdrawal is not justified by information in the Interior Department’s environmental assessment, and is an “arbitrary agency action” under the Administrative Procedure Act, and that it fails to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to take the “hard look” at the withdrawal’s consequences that the US Supreme Court required in a unanimous 1989 decision. In March 2013 a US District Court judge declined to overturn the mining ban, and in October 2014 the US District Court affirmed the ban. NEI comment.

In January 2015 the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) proposed new health and environmental protection standards for uranium extraction including tighter groundwater quality and monitoring standards, under the Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act of 1978. The proposed standards address the increased use of ISL for uranium recovery in the USA. The proposed rule describes how ISL facilities are to characterize groundwater chemistry before commencing uranium mining. The rule would also require compliance with whichever standard is most stringent from the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, or the Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act for each of 13 groundwater constituents: arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, selenium, silver, nitrate, molybdenum, radium, total uranium, and gross alpha particle activity. The final post-mining water quality would need to match the original, and be monitored for 30 years by the operator unless chemistry was satisfactory and stable over three years. The final standards will be administered by the NRC.

US Uranium Production, tonnes U

Company ISL operations,
hard rock mill
2013 2014
Cameco Smith Ranch - Highland, WY 646 815
Cameco Crow Butte, NE 272 227
Uranium One Willow Creek, WY 362 217
Uranerz (now EFRC) Nichols Ranch, WY 0 77
UEC Hobson - La Palangana, TX   10
Mestena Uranium Alta Mesa, TX ? 0
Ur-Energy Lost Creek, WY 51 211
EFRC White Mesa mill 388 362
total   1796 1919

Mining and exploration projects

Conventional (non-ISL) uranium mining is resuming in the USA after some years (though Cotter Corporation produced 38 tonnes U through its 400 t/day Cañon City mill, Colorado in 2005).

Energy Fuels – EFRC

Energy Fuels Resources Corporation (EFRC, a Colorado-based subsidiary of Energy Fuels Inc of Toronto) is the largest US uranium mining company (after Cameco). In April 2012 EFRC agreed to take over all Denison Mines' US assets and operations, including the White Mesa mill, in a C$106 million merger. In August 2013 Energy Fuels took over Strathmore Minerals in a C$29 million deal. Korea Electric Power Co. (KEPCO) is the largest shareholder in both companies, with 9.1% and 11.7% respectively. It supported the takeover and holds 9.6% of the expanded company. In June 2015 Energy Fuels Inc completed its $150 million takeover of Uranerz Energy Corp.

Uranerz Energy Corp, which became part of Energy Fuels in mid-2015, received an NRC materials licence for its Nichols Ranch ISL operation in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming in July 2011, and its final state approval in October 2012. Production commenced in April 2014, with loaded resin being trucked to Cameco’s Smith Ranch plant for recovery, under a toll processing agreement. The initial plant capacity is 300 tU/yr. The company has NI 43-101 compliant resources of 6060 tU at about 0.1% U in seven deposits, including measured & indicated resources of 1137 tU for Nichols Ranch itself, 860 tU for Hank, 1100 tU for West North-Butte and 1655 tU measured and indicated resources at about half the grades of these – 0.048% U – at Reno Creek, 30 km east of Nichols Ranch. The company has applied to the NRC to add the contiguous Jane Dough permit area, with 1052 tU, to the Nichols Ranch project. It will be followed by Hank.

EFRC’s Pinenut mine operated in 2014 but is worked out as of mid-2015, and Canyon is being brought into production, both are in Arizona. Its main pending development projects in 2015 were Sheep Mountain WY, Roca Honda NM, and Bullfrog in the Henry Mountains complex of Utah. Other EFRC mines “will remain on standby until [market] conditions improve.”

Denison Mines had operated its 2000 t/day White Mesa mill in southeastern Utah (near 'Four Corners'), from its own and purchased ore (the company is advertising its ore-buying program), as well as doing some toll milling. Production cost for this was $197 per kgU in 2009. The mill has a vanadium co-product recovery circuit. It produced 476 tU over 15 months to the end of 2013, and 700 t of vanadium oxide. Some of its feed in 2013 is coming from Cameco’s Blind River tailings in Ontario. The company has announced that it will close the mill from March 2015 for about a year on account of market conditions, while stockpiling feed to meet sales commitments in 2016.

During 2013 the White Mesa mill processed 18,370 t of Arizona 1 ore, 2,052 t of Pinenut ore, 11,181 t of Daneros ore, 41,782 t of Pandora ore, 40,669 tons of Beaver ore, and 8,894 t of purchased ore to produce 388 tU. Its capacity is about 3000 tU/yr.

EFRC has several mines in the Uravan Mineral Belt on the Colorado Plateau (straddling the Utah-Colorado border) containing 2100 tU in placer deposits plus vanadium co-product (Uravan = uranium + vanadium). These La Sal Complex mines about 100 km northeast of the White Mesa mill comprise La Sal, Beaver and Pandora which are mature operating mines with extensive interconnected underground workings. In October 2012 EFRC said it would place Beaver and La Sal on standby, pending uranium market improvement and would finish mining at Pandora by mid year due to depleted resources. EFRC’s nearby Energy Queen mine in Utah was refurbished for 2008 reopening, and is licensed but not operating.

EFRC's Henry Mountains deposits in Utah including Tony M, Southwest and Bullfrog have 4900 tU as indicated resources at over 0.2% and inferred resources of 3100 tU, both NI 43-101 compliant. All these are some 120 km west of the White Mesa mill. Denison began production from the Tony M mine in 2007, but late in 2008 put it on care and maintenance. The company was intending to spend $35 million on the adjacent new Bullfrog mine, but it was put on hold in 2008.

EFRC’s Daneros deposit in southeastern Utah was was the main asset of White Canyon Uranium which Denison bought for $57 million in 2011. It has been mined since December 2009 and ore was trucked 100 km to the White Mesa mill for treatment and recovery of U3O8 product. Ore produced during the development phase was sold to Denison, and from there a three-year toll treatment agreement came into effect. JORC-compliant resource figures of 447 tU in 0.22%U ore were quoted in August 2010, and production is planned to be 227 tU/yr. In October 2012 EFRC put Daneros on standby, pending uranium market improvement.

Denison also had four old mines in the Arizona Strip of north central Arizona, along with some new deposits there, though all these are some 500 km south from White Mesa mill and some may be impacted by the Bureau of Land Management decision to stall developments near the Grand Canyon. The Arizona One underground mine resumed production in 2009, with ore processed at White Mesa. Known resources were depleted early in 2014, so it closed. Denison had applied for licences for its nearby Pinenut and EZ mines. Pinenut was mined in the 1980s and produced 200 tU then, with a shaft 410 m deep. EFRC brought the mine into production in 2013 but will close it in mid-2015 pending uranium price improvement. Ore has been milled at White Mesa, just over the Utah border.

The EZ mine in Arizona is subject to land use restrictions by the Bureau of Land Management. It has 810 tU as inferred resources. The Canyon mine, which was originally licensed in 1986 and operated for a few years, is fully permitted. It has 630 tU as inferred resources at 0.83%U. The development was on hold pending resolution of a dispute with the US Forest Service, but early in 2015 the company was making preparation to reopen it and transfer personnel from Pinenut. The surface facilities are complete but shaft sinking to about 450 metres is not, and was put on hold at 84 metres. Ore will be trucked to the White Mesa mill.

In February 2015 EFRC subsidiary EFR Arizona Strip acquired a 50% share of the Wate deposit from Vane Minerals for $1.75 million. It is a high-grade breccia pipe deposit like Pinenut, Canyon and Arizona One mines. The other 50% of Wate Mining Co JV is held by Anfield Resources (pending, from Uranium One), and application has been made for mining licence. EFRC anticipates processing future production from Wate at its White Mesa mill and plans to produce a NI 43-101 compliant resource estimate for the deposit, historically estimated to contain 432 tU at an average grade of 0.67%U.

EFRC's Sheep Mountain, Wyoming deposit has 11,700 tU measured and indicated resources at 0.1%U, including 7100 probable reserves. In 2009, Titan Uranium Inc bought Uranium One's 50% interest in it, and it then transferred to EFRC in a 2012 merger with Titan. Underground development took place in the 1970s. Titan undertook a prefeasibility study on mining the Congo open pit and underground, with heap leaching recovery, to produce 580 tU/yr from 5500 tU probable reserves. EFRC has updated the preliminary feasibility study for the whole project, and proposes development in conjunction with Gas Hills, only 45 km north. The BLM is preparing an EIS for the project.

Strathmore had been working towards bringing its Gas Hills properties in central Wyoming into production, and in March 2013 announced 2080 tU at 0.11%U indicated resources and 2120 tU inferred resources (NI 43-101 compliant). Exploration and possible development was proceeding under a February 2012 agreement with KEPCO, which would contribute $32 million to the project from 2013, leading to an envisaged joint venture with Kepco holding 40%. EFRC is planning to develop it in conjunction with nearby Sheep Mountain. Strathmore had been exploring the prospect of developing Juniper Ridge in conjunction with Gas Hills, or with EFRC’s Sheep Mountain, or both. Juniper Ridge is 150 km south, straddling the Colorado border. In March 2014 EFRC announced resources of 2350 tU at 0.05%U at Juniper Ridge, envisaging open pit mining and heap leach.

In New Mexico, Strathmore submitted a mining permit application in October 2009 for Roca Honda (60% owned, with Sumitomo 40%) in the Grants mineral district which has measured & indicated resource of 6,470 tU at 0.34% U and 4580 tU inferred resources at 0.35% U. Annual production was expected to be 1000 tU, and a mine permit decision was expected in 2016. Original plans assumed that a new mill would be built, but the White Mesa mill about 180 km away in southeastern Utah is likely to be used. In June 2015 EFRC bought URI’s partly-developed Roca Honda mineral properties adjacent to EFRC’s (ex Strathmore) Roca Honda.

The merged company also has other projects in the Grants mineral district of New Mexico, including: Marquez with 3500 tU as indicated resource, Dalton Pass with ISL potential and 1000 tU measured & indicated resource, and Nose Rock, deep in hard rock with 1160 tU measured & indicated resource. All these are NI 43-101 compliant. 

Other EFRC Uravan mines operating in 2007-08 but now closed include Topaz, West Sunday and Sunday/St. Jude in the Sunday complex in Colorado. There are no plans to bring the other mine there, Van 4, into production. EFRC reopened the refurbished Whirlwind mine (including Packrat and Bonanza) following Bureau of Land Management and state approval, but put it on standby in 2009. It has 425 tU measured and indicated resources and 770 tU inferred resources. It appears that these properties have been sold to Western Uranium Corp.

EFRC in March 2011 had received a Colorado state licence to build the new 330 tU/yr Pinon Ridge mill for ore from its northern Arizona mines, plus possible toll treatment, but this was overturned on appeal in June 2012, pending a further public hearing. The state’s radioactive materials licence was reissued in April 2013, but plans were then put on hold and the project was sold to Western Uranium Corp. The company had been seeking $140 million finance for the mill, which would also produce 1700 t/yr of vanadium oxide.

Western Uranium

In July 2014 Western Uranium Corp (formerly Homeland Uranium) agreed to buy from EFRC some of its non-core assets including eight mining properties along the Colorado-Utah border and the licence for the Pinon Ridge mill (see above) for $33 million. The former comprise the Sunday complex, the Sage and Van 4 mines, the Wilhunt, San Rafael, Farmer Girl, Dun and the Yellow Cat projects. EFRC will get a royalty of $3 per tonne on Pinion Ridge mill throughput, and one percent of sales.

In March 2015 Western Uranium Corp took over Black Range Minerals Ltd in a $14.5 million transaction, making it a subsidiary. Black Range has the 11,500 tU Hansen deposit grading 0.07%U in Colorado and the adjacent Taylor Ranch deposit, about twice the size. The whole project has 35,000 tU grading 0.05%U. Hansen was licensed for mining in 1981, but stalled due to low uranium prices.

Black Range has a joint venture with Ablation Technologies LLC to commercialize its ablation mineral concentration process. This agreement allows Black Range to utilize this technology at the Hansen-Taylor Ranch Project and at other projects. The merger terms with Western require Black Range to move an ablation pilot plant to its Sunday Mine complex, bought from EFRC in 2014.

Uranium One 

Toronto-based Uranium One's main interests are in ISL projects. Uranium One is now wholly owned by Russia’s ARMZ. In Wyoming, Uranium One USA had production from its Willow Creek ISL project in the Powder River Basin from 2011. It acquired 500 tU/yr capacity from Christensen Ranch ISL mine through the Irigaray central processing plant when it bought those assets for $35 million from Areva in mid-2009, and it plans to expand this plant to its licensed 960 tU/yr. In December 2010, NRC then licensed the Irigaray mill to produce up to 960 tU/yr (it operaed at 500 tU/yr in 2011), and for Christiansen Ranch to restart operations (it had been shut down since 2000 and restarted in January 2011). Production from its three small mines (Moore Ranch, Peterson Ranch, Nine Mile) and from Christiansen Ranch itself is from loaded resin trucked to Irigaray from satellite plants. Overall Willow Creek produced 362 tU in 2013 at a cost of $36/lb. Wellfield development was put on hold in 2014 until prices improve.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a licence to Uranium One Americas for Moore Ranch in October 2010, to start production in 2012, but development is suspended. Uranium One’s additional projects in the Powder River Basin, including Ludeman, Allemand-Ross and Barge, could also be developed as satellite operations with final processing through the Willow Creek central plant. Uranium One has some 4000 tU as measured resources (2235 t at Moore Ranch) and 23,000 tU as indicated resources in the state. It also had plans for production from Antelope and JAB in the Great Divide Basin, but these were deferred due to endangered species concerns.

In 2010, Uranium One sold a number of Utah and Colorado claims and two Utah leases, including the Sage mine, to Colorado Plateau Partners (CPP), a joint venture between Energy Fuels Inc of Toronto (see EFRC above) and Royal Resources Ltd of Australia.

Cameco 

Cameco's US subsidiary Cameco Resources Inc operates the Smith Ranch-Highland mine in Wyoming's Powder River basin and the Crow Butte mine in Nebraska, both of them ISL operations, and producing nearly 1200 tonnes U between them in 2009 from total reserves of 12,000 tU (15,000 t U3O8). The company is aiming to increase production from these mines and adjacent properties including Reynolds Ranch to 1,770 tU/y when markets improve. Cameco also has a Gas Hills project in Wyoming which is permitted but on hold.

Smith Ranch-Highland produced 423 tU in 2012 and 646 tU in 2013 including North Butte. North Butte is a satellite plant in Wyoming which started production in May 2013 and will ramp up to 270 tU/yr. Licensed wellfield capacity of both is 1156 tU. 

In 2013 Crow Butte produced 272 tU, though licensed capacity is 770 tU.

UEC 

Uranium Energy Corporation (UEC) in October 2009 bought the small but recently-refurbished Hobson mill in southern Texas from Uranium One (it had been shut since 1991). UEC then made Hobson the basis and hub of its Texas uranium projects. Hobson had 385 t/yr capacity, but UEC says it is now 1150 tU/yr, in 2011-12 it processed 90 tU. It recovers uranium from loaded resin trucked there from the Palangana ISL mine, to which will be added loaded resin from satellite plants at Goliad and Burke Hollow, followed by Nichols and Salvo. 

Production commenced at Palangana in November 2010 – the first US ISL operation to start in five years. By the end of 2011 UEC had obtained all the necessary permits to develop its Goliad ISL project, 70 km east of the Hobson mill, for production anticipated from mid2014. Palangana has 410 tU measured and indicated resources grading 0.114%U in two orebodies and 445 tU inferred resources at 0.15%U in six others, while Goliad has 2100 tU measured & indicated resources at 0.04%U, all NI 43-101 compliant. Future ISL satellites are Burke Hollow, 86 km SE of Hobson and with 1100 tU inferred resource estimate, Salvo, with 1100 tU inferred resource grading 0.07%U, then Nichols with 500 tU inferred located close to Hobson mill, and Burke Hollow (1100 tU inferred) and Channen. Salvo and Channen are 70-85 km from Hobson. Longhorn is recently acquired, and will feed Hobson mill. UEC claims cash cost of $20 per pound over 2010-12 for its ISL production, excluding royalties. However, in September 2013 UEC said it would slow production at Palangana pending recovery in uranium prices, while it focuses on Goliard and Burke Hollow. UEC lodged final permit applications for Burke Hollow late in 2014, and some permits were issued in May 2015.

UEC’s Anderson project northwest of Phoenix in central west Arizona was formerly mined in 1950s to yield 12,800 tU. It has 6000 tU indicated and 960 tU inferred resources at 0.024%U accessible by open pit mining, with two-thirds as much again (mostly inferred) accessible underground (NI 43-101). UEC expects to produce 6200 tU over 14 years using heap leach and transport of loaded resin to White Mesa mill in Utah.

In 2007 UEC bought the New River, now Los Cuatros Uranium Project in central Arizona with a historic resource estimate of 5000 tU in shallow low-grade ore. Its Workman Creek deposit there has 2100 tU inferred resource at 0.073%U. 

UEC has a NI 43-101 inferred resource for its Slick Rock project in western Colorado, of 4470 tU grading 0.19%U. Vanadium is also present. Several other prospects are nearby.

URI 

Uranium Resources Inc (URI) began operations in 1977 in south Texas. It developed and produced over 216 tU from the Longoria and Benavides projects in the early 1980s, then 2350 tU from Kingsville Dome and Rosita through to 1999.

In south Texas, URI commenced production from its Vasquez ISL mine in 2004 at about 50 tU/yr and from Kingsville Dome in 2006. Vasquez peaked in 2006 and is now depleted (30 tU in 2007, 9 tU in 2008). Rosita restarted production in 2008 with oxygen injection but was then closed as uneconomic after 3 tU was recovered. Kingsville Dome produced 67 tU in 2008 and 19 tU in 2009. It was closed in June 2009 due to low uranium prices, and is being remediated along with Vasquez and Rosita. URI earlier said that it did not intend to revive its Texas operations, with total reserves there of only 256 tU, and a joint venture exploration agreement with Cameco there has lapsed. However, in December 2013 it said that it remained “committed to developing uranium in South Texas as we aim to leverage our two processing plants in the region” – possibly Kingsville Dome and Rosita.

URI's future potential is in its Grants mineral belt properties in western New Mexico which hold 39,000 tU, and from which it hopes to produce 2000-3000 tU/yr from ISL. URI subsidiary Hydro Resources Inc was licensed in 1994 to mine the Crownpoint and Church Rock ISL deposits in New Mexico, and after years of opposition the licence was validated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2006 and then reactivated in 2011. URI planned to produce 385 tU/yr from Church Rock/ Mancos from 2013, as the first of URI’s New Mexico properties to develop, subject to further permitting. Nose Rock, Roca Honda and West Largo/Ambrosia Lake are other URI properties in the Grants mineral belt. In June 2015 URI sold its partly-developed Roca Honda mineral properties adjacent to EFRC’s Roca Honda project to EFRC, while retaining some royalty rights. In partial exchange it received from EFRC some claims adjacent to its Church Rock prospect. These have a historic resource estimate of 4200 tU based on a previous owner’s 1979 data.

URI In 2007 URI sought to buy Rio Algom Mining, with uranium properties and a licensed mill site at Ambrosia Lake in New Mexico, where it planned to construct a new mill to serve the Grants mineral belt. However, the deal was aborted in mid-2008.

URI also holds the Copper Mountain leases in Wyoming, with low-grade uranium mineralization (hardrock, not ISL) which was mined to 1971.

In June 2015 URI announced a takeover of Anatolia Energy, developing the Temrezli ISL uranium mine in Turkey. URI shareholders will own about 59% of the merged company. As well as providing experienced staff, it may transfer the Rosita processing plant to Turkey.

Ur-Energy 

Ur-Energy Inc (URE/ URG) has total about 8500 tU as NI 43-101 indicated resources in Wyoming, and claims potential for double that. Lost Creek in the Great Divide basin has 3300 tU measured and indicated resources at 0.05 %U and 1800 tU inferred (Nov 2013), including leases taken over from Uranium One in 2012. The company plans to produce 400 tU/yr from the Lost Creek wellfields and about the same from satellite operations. The site is close to Rio Tinto's Sweetwater mill.

Production from Lost Creek commenced in mid-2013 after construction of a 770 tU/yr mill, following NRC licensing and Bureau of Land Management approval. Production in 2013 was 50.57 tU, in 2014 it was 211 tU, and 123 tU was produced by mid-2015.

In July 2014 the company announced measured and indicated resources of 3400 tU grading 0.194%U for its Shirley Basin project in Wyoming, 150 km east of Lost Creek. It is to be a satellite ISL operation from late 2017, with recovery at Lost Creek, for operating cost of $14.54 and total cost of $31.26 per pound U3O8. The ground was previously held by Pathfinder Mines Corp which Ur-Energy acquired in 2013, and it was mined conventionally to 1992, producing 10,800 tU. Average depth to orebody is 95 metres.

Bayswater Uranium is farming into the company's Hauber prospect, some 300 km northeast beyond the Powder River Basin.

Peninsula/Strata

Australian-based Peninsula Energy reports JORC-compliant resources (January 2013) of 19,800 tU at 0.041%U for its Lance ISL project on the east side of Wyoming's Powder River Basin, including 6130 tU as measured and indicated resources, held by the company’s subsidiary Strata Energy Inc. It is planning to bring this into production eventually at 890 tU/yr from three production units – Ross, Kendrick and Barber. These will feed into a central processing plant with an expandable capacity of up to 1154 tU per year (four modules of 288 tU/yr), commencing from Ross. The plant incorporates a restoration circuit with IX then RO to restore water quality of barren liquor to pre-mining levels.

State permitting is well advanced, with a permit to mine issued in November 2012. From the NRC, the company received a source materials licence (SML), and a final supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) for both the plant and Ross wellfield in March-April 2014. It expects to start production from Ross in 2015, with the first of a three-stage ramp-up which will delay much capital expenditure and defer most sales until after 2018. The Kendrick, Richards and Barber production units to the south of Ross will be brought on line with amendments to Ross licences, the Barber wellfield and satellite plant being part of stage 3 ramp-up. A deep disposal well has been drilled to 2600 metres to a sandstone aquifer with low water quality. Vanadium may be a by-product – 2237 t V2O5 resources are identified for Ross and Kendrick.

Azarga Uranium 

Azarga Uranium Corp (formerly Powertech Uranium Corp) is proposing to develop two ISL mines: Centennial in northern Colorado, and Dewey-Burdock in South Dakota – in each case very close to the Wyoming border. Centennial has 4,430 tU in 0.08% ore and Dewey-Burdock 3310 tU indicated resources averaging 0.21%U (1.29 m% grade thickness) and 1340 tU inferred resources averaging 0.04%, both NI 43-101 compliant. Some 360 tU further inferred resources grading 0.144%U are above the water table. The company has applied to develop Dewey-Burdock, and a preliminary economic assessment in 2014 suggested 3700 tU ISL production over 11 years, with $27 million capital investment. The company has a full NRC operating licence, having overcome some local opposition. The project may still require EPA and state approval. Azarga also has 400 tU as indicated resources at its Aladdin project in Wyoming.

Others, ISL 

Mestena Uranium LLC is a private Texas company. Its Alta Mesa ISL plant in southern Texas was operational with about 385 tU/yr capacity, but production ceased at the end of 2013.

Bayswater Uranium Corporation of Canada has received a pre-feasibility study on mining its newly-acquired Reno Creek and Southwest Reno Creek deposits in Wyoming. These have a NI 43-101 measured and indicated resource of 8440 tU @ 0.044% suitable for ISL, plus a small inferred resource. The project would have five wellfields and a central processing plant producing about 750 tU/yr. It is 30 km southeast of Christiansen Ranch and 50 km north of Cameco's Smith Ranch, and Bayswater plans to bring it into production about 2014.

In New Mexico, Uranium International Corp (UIC) has announced 1,180 tU measured and indicated resource at Dalton Pass, with ISL potential. It also announced a 1,160 tU measured and indicated resource at Nose Rock, deep in hard rock. Both are NI 43-101 compliant, in the Grants mineral belt and owned by Strathmore Minerals. UIC has the option of earning a 65% share of each.

Others, hardrock 

Cotter Corporation, a General Atomics subsidiary, is planning a $200 million rebuild of its Cañon City mill, where it expects to treat ore from the Mount Taylor mine in New Mexico. (Mount Taylor, which has been on standby since 1989, is owned by another General Atomics subsidiary, Rio Grande Resources Corporation.)

Neutron Energy Inc has taken full ownership of the Cebolleta Land Grant in New Mexico which has 8000 tU resources after mining took place 1975-81, producing 460 tU.

Uranium One in 2007 bought US Energy's 1,000 t/day Shootaring Canyon mill* in southeast Utah and associated properties in four contiguous states for $50 million plus royalties. In October 2014 the Utah regulator agreed to transfer the licence to Anfield Resources and to give it a year to apply for licence renewal with necessary upgrading.

* US Energy had been planning to bring the mill back into production at a cost of $31 million. It was built in 1980 and then closed in 1982 and put on care and maintenance. (Uranium One had also secured the right to buy Rio Tinto's 3,000 t/day Sweetwater uranium mill and associated uranium properties in south-central Wyoming for $110 million, but in January 2007 Rio Tinto cancelled the deal.)  In October 2013 Uranium One agreed to sell the Shootaring Canyon mill for $10 million to Black Range Minerals Ltd and also enter into a joint venture arrangement for all Uranium One's associated “conventional” hard rock leases, where Black Range would progressively increase its equity, but this deal has lapsed due to regulatory problems. Black Range will concentrate on its Hansen project. In August 2014 Anfield Resources agreed to buy the mill and associated mining properties in three states, including Velvet-Wood in Utah, for $5 million.

Yellowcake Mining Corp reports 5,000 tU reserves at its planned Beck mine in the Uravan area of Colorado and agreed in May 2008 to sell a 50% stake in it to Korea Electric Power Corp (KEPCO). However, in February 2009, KEPCO withdrew, leaving the project bereft of funds. The company had joint ventures with Strathmore Minerals for Juniper Ridge and a Gas Hills prospect in Wyoming, but these were terminated in 2008. In 2010 Strathmore agreed to sell Juniper Ridge to Crosshair Energy, but this agreement terminated in 2012.

Bluerock Energy Corporation has shipped the first ore from development of the J-Bird mine in Colorado to Denison's White Mesa mill in Utah.

Anfield Resources Inc has 1780 tU at 0.25%U as measured and indicated resources at Velvet-Wood in Utah, and a 50% interest in the Wate deposit in Arizona (432 tU), with EFRC. It also has the Shootaring Canyon mill in Utah, with some small stockpiles there.

Laramide Resources Ltd is applying to reopen the La Sal II mine in Lisbon Valley, Utah, bought in 2010 from Homestake with about 1000 tU. It is about 90 km from Energy Fuels' White Mesa mill, and a two-year toll milling agreement was signed in January 2013. Laramide also has the La Jara Mesa project in the Grants mineral belt of New Mexico, with 4000 tU resource (NI 43-101 compliant, two-thirds ‘indicated’).

In Virginia, Virginia Uranium Inc, in association with Virginia Energy Resources Inc, has a proposal to mine the Coles Hill uranium deposit in Pittsylvania county which has 3260 tU as measured resource and 42,800 tU as indicated resource at 0.05 %U (NI 43-101 compliant) . An associated conventional mill would be near Chatham. A detailed state review reported on the project, but the Governor at the end of 2013 announced that he would veto any enabling legislation.

In Texas, Texas Rare Earth Resources Corp has signed an agreement with Areva to take up to 116 tU per year by-product uranium from its Round Top heavy rare earth project in Hudspeth County. About 37,000 tU is identified in all classes of REE resources there.

US in situ leach (ISL) uranium mines and production facilities

  ISL mines Mill Status Annual capacity
Uranium One Willow Creek/Christiansen Ranch, WY Irigaray, WY Operating 500 tU
Moore Ranch, WY   Licensed but suspended 190 tU,
770 tU
Jab, Antelope, WY   Developing  
EFRC (Uranerz Energy) Nichols Ranch, Hank, Jane Dough, WY Smith Ranch - Highland, WY Operating from 2014 300 tU initially, 770 tU
Ur-Energy Lost Creek, WY Lost Creek, WY Operating from 2013 770 tU
Cameco Resources Inc  Smith Ranch - Highland, WY Smith Ranch - Highland, WY Operating 2100 tU
Cameco Resources Crow Butte, NE Crow Butte Operating 385 tU
Uranium Resources Inc (URI) Vasquez, TX
Rosita, TX
Rosita? Operating in 2008, but now closed 0
Kingsville Dome, TX   Operating in 2008, but closed mid-2009 0
Mestena Uranium Alta Mesa, TX Alta Mesa Operating to 2013 578 tU
Uranium Energy Corp La Palangana, TX Hobson, TX Operating 385 tU
Goliad, Burke Hollow, TX Hobson, TX Goliad approved 385 tU
Hydro Resources Inc (URI subsidiary) Church Rock, NM   Partially licensed, under construction 385 tU
Crownpoint, NM   Partially licensed, under construction 385 tU
Peninsula/Strata Lance, WY Ross Partially licensed, under construction 150 tU
Azarga Uranium Dewey-Burdock, SD   Licensing deferred 385 tU
Total capacity       8138 tU

 

US hard rock uranium mines and mills

  Mine Mill Status Annual capacity
EFRC Arizona 1, Pinenut, Canyon, Az White Mesa, UT Arizona1 operated to early 2014, Pinenut operating 2013-15, others closed  
EFRC La Sal, Energy Queen, Daneros, Whirlwind, CO-UT White Mesa, UT Mines on standby, Pinon Ridge, Co mill licensed but on hold.  
EFRC Roca Honda, NM White Mesa, UT Planned  
EFRC Sheep Mtn & Gas Hills, WY Whie Mesa, UT Planned  
EFRC Henry Mtns, UT White Mesa, UT Development on hold  
EFRC   White Mesa, UT Operating, but closing temporarily 2015 3000 tU
Western Uranium Sunday complex, CO
Hansen-Taylor Ranch, CO
Pinon Ridge, CO Licensed but on hold  
Cotter Corp   Canon City, CO Standby, refurbish plan  
Rio Tinto   Sweetwater, WY Standby  
Uranium One/Anfield    Shootaring Canyon, UT Standby  

Legacy environmental issues

Uranium mining was a major activity in the late 1940s and into the 1950s, when the focus was on national security rather than environmental protection. There was little regulation or oversight of facilities, and tailings were put in impoundments without liners, giving rise to groundwater contamination.

There was a considerable legacy of pollution from abandoned uranium mines and treatment plants, most dating from the 1950s, and which was addressed in the 1980s. For instance, the Uravan mill site on the San Miguel River in Colorado was designated a Superfund site and was cleaned up between 1987 and 2007 at a cost of over $120 million. Historic mining and milling at Uravan included the production of radium, vanadium and uranium, leaving radioactive residues from the early 1900s through to the mid-1980s. From the time Uravan mill began operating in the 1920s until it was shut down, it processed over ten million tonnes of uranium-vanadium ore, giving rise to a similar amount of uncontained tailings, and 1,440 megalitres of liquid wastes were treated in the site rehabilitation program.

The Schwartzwalder mine west of Denver, Colorado, was once the largest underground uranium mine in USA. It has been polluting Ralston Creek feeding the city's water supply and is now subject to bacterial bioremediation by Cotter Corp.

In 2015, the US Department of Justice announced that $13.2 million in federal funding will be placed into a trust to pay for evaluations of abandoned uranium mines across Navajo lands in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. This will expedite the cleanup of 16 mines seen as the most significant hazards. The funding is part of an ongoing multi-agency federal initiative to address legacy issues connected with historic uranium mining across the Navajo Nation which produced four million tonnes of uranium ore between 1944 and 1986.


Further Information

Related information pages

US Nuclear Fuel Cycle

References

1. U.S. Uranium Mine Production and Number of Mines and Sources, US Energy Information Administration, Domestic Uranium Production Report (annual) [Back]

General sources

US Energy Information Administration (www.eia.doe.gov)
Company reports