Uranium mining in the US was a bustling industry during the 1950s thanks to federal subsidies and rising global demand driven by nuclear weapons procurement programs.
Production climaxed in 1980, with over 250 operating mines producing 16,800 tonnes of uranium. But within four years, output had dropped abruptly to 50 mines producing 5,700 tonnes. Changing geopolitical circumstances, as well as safety, environmental and economic concerns over nuclear power plants, had drastically reduced demand.
Today, the US ranks 14th in the world for known uranium resources, with 62,900 tonnes of known resources, or roughly 1 percent of the world total. It was the ninth-largest producer of uranium in 2016, putting out 1,125 tonnes, and is the world’s largest generator and consumer of nuclear energy — nuclear energy provides 20 percent of the country’s power through 100 reactors.
Uranium mines in the US currently only produce about 5 to 10 percent of uranium used in the country — in 2016, five underground mines and several solution mining operations put out just 1,224 tonnes of uranium. However, the global nuclear renaissance has prompted a revival in exploration and plans to reopen old mines. Exploration projects have increased in quantity and scope in recent years, and there are now operating mines in Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, Southern Utah, Colorado and Texas.
Wyoming and New Mexico make up the majority of resources when it comes to uranium mining in the US, with Arizona, Nebraska and Texas making smaller contributions to production. Utah is also a significant player as it is home to the only uranium milling operation in the country.
Uranium mining in the US: Producing companies
As mentioned, uranium mining in the US is currently undertaken by few companies on a relatively small scale. Here’s a brief look at the major producers in the country; companies are listed by market cap in descending order, and all information was current as of August 15, 2017.
1. Cameco (TSX:CCO,NYSE:CCJ)
Market cap: C$4.88 billion
Cameco is the largest uranium producer in the US. It has two uranium mines in operation: the Smith Ranch-Highland mine in Wyoming’s Powder River basin and the Crow Butte mine in Nebraska, both of which are in-situ recovery mines. In 2016, annual production at Smith Ranch-Highland, which is the largest uranium mine in the country, was 358 tonnes of U3O8; during the same period, Crow Butte produced 89 tonnes of U3O8.
2. Uranium Energy (NYSEMKT:UEC)
Market cap: US$196.93 million
Uranium Energy is focused on Texas, and its Palangana in-situ recovery mine has been operating in the state since 2010. The company also holds the Burke Hollow in-situ recovery project, as well as the fully operational Hobson in-situ recovery plant. In May 2017, Uranium Energy acquired Pacific Road Resources’ Reno Creek project in Wyoming to bolster in-situ recovery projects in the area.
The company also owns quite a few other operations in Texas that are currently in the development and exploration phases: the Goliad in-situ recovery project, the Salvo project and the Longhorn project.
3. Energy Fuels (TSX:EFR)
Market cap: C$150.39 million
Energy Fuels bills itself as the only company in the US with both conventional and in-situ recovery uranium production. Its Utah-based White Mesa mill is the only fully licensed and operating conventional uranium mill in the US, and its conventional uranium assets include the Canyon mine, and the Roca Honda, Sheep Mountain and Henry Mountains projects. All of those projects are located in the US.
In addition to its conventional properties, Energy Fuels owns and operates two in-situ recovery production facilities in the US: the Wyoming-based Nichols Ranch in-situ recovery plant and mine and the Alta Mesa in-situ recovery plant and mine, located in South Texas. The company’s Hank and Jane Dough projects could be future in-situ recovery production sites.
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