The long-struggling uranium business, hoping that demand for nuclear fuel will increase, is slowly stretching its muscles and strengthening exploration and production efforts in the U.S. and elsewhere.
- In the U.S., a new $175 million uranium mill in southwestern Colorado is moving toward operation, having won a license from state regulators. The New York Times reports that Pinon Ridge, owned by the Canadian firm Energy Fuels, would be the first new mill in the U.S. in more than 25 years. It would be located in what was once the heart of U.S. uranium country. Although many local residents-more than a few, relatives of former uranium miners and mill workers-support the project, it is facing opposition, centered in the nearby resort town of Telluride. The Sheep Mountain Alliance says approval of the plant by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment was hasty and may result in danger to public health.
- In Utah, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management is considering a plan by Denison Mines Corp. to expand its La Sal mining complex in the Four Corners area in the southeastern part of the state, just across the Colorado border from Pinon Ridge. According to The Salt Lake Tribune, a local environmental group based in Moab, Utah, Uranium Watch, is concerned that the plan to open a new portal to the underground mine complex could increase radioactive air emissions in the neighborhood. Denison, also a Canadian company, operates mines and mills in the U.S., Canada, and Mongolia.
- In Campbell County, Wyo., most famous for Powder River Basin coal, the Gillette News Record reports that Uranium One has begun production at its Christensen Ranch mine, the first operating uranium mine in the area in more than a decade. The company, a Canadian firm traded primarily on the Toronto stock exchange, has also opened a uranium processing plant in Johnson County, Wyo., home of the famous Johnson County War of the late 19th century. Yellowcake from the processing plant goes to enrichment plants in the U.S. for fabrication into nuclear fuel. According to the local newspaper, "Several other companies are working to open mines in Wyoming, including Cameco Resources. Cameco’s Smith Ranch-Highland mine near Douglas in Converse County is the largest uranium production facility in the country." Smith Ranch-Highland produces about 1.2 million pounds of uranium annually.
- In Virginia, the Coles family, a prominent local land owner in Pittsylvania County in the central part of the Old Dominion, is trying to win permission to mine and mill a rich, 119-million-pound uranium ore body on family property. The family owns 78% of Virginia Uranium Inc., 12% is owned by Canadian investors, and the rest by employees. At the request of the Virginia Coal and Energy Commission, the National Academies of Science in Washington has mounted a study of the planned project, while a local group, the Danville Regional Foundation, is opposing it, according to the Lynchburg News & Advance. The company says it hopes the Virginia General Assembly will put a regulatory process in place governing uranium mining in the state, so the project can go forward. It would eventually require approval from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
- On the international front, Bloomberg reports that India’s second-largest metal mining company, National Aluminum, is looking to buy uranium mines in Canada, Mongolia, and Namibia as India gears up for a major expansion of nuclear power, in part a result of a nuclear cooperation treaty with the U.S. The business news service says the metals company is talking business combinations with Uranium Corp. of India, the state-owned nuclear fuel monopoly. Uranium Corp. has six mines in the state of Jharkhand in eastern India but no interests outside the country.
—Kennedy Maize is MANAGING POWER’s executive editor.