The uranium industry is riding a red-hot market.
Miners want to reopen production lines throughout Wyoming, and perhaps hire hundreds to keep up with demand.
A Wyoming State Geological Survey report issued Tuesday also confirms that the uranium industry fared well last year. Indeed, there is growing optimism for Wyoming uranium production to find new life, the report says.
What’s driving the growth? Plenty.
Uranium spot prices hit $93.25 a pound as of Tuesday, nearly double from a year ago. In a single day, an eyepopping $1.25 jump in prices happened on the nuclear fuel exchange UcX, driven mainly by an announcement out of Washington, D.C., that the U.S. is seeking bids from contractors to help establish a domestic supply of a uranium fuel enriched to higher levels for use in a next generation of reactors.
That fuel is now only available in commercial levels from Russia, which is at war with Ukraine and is the target of a potential ban on purchases of low-enriched uranium by the U.S.
That effort has become ensnared in politics in the nation’s capital, with U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, at the center of efforts to get the ban in place despite opposition coming from an unlikely colleague in his own party.
“The U.S. currently purchases three times as much uranium from Russia as we produce here at home,” said Barrasso in a statement to Cowboy State Daily. “Russia is driving America’s nuclear fuel suppliers out of business. America must stop funding Putin’s war machine, and that starts by cutting off Russian uranium.
“America – and especially the state of Wyoming – has uranium resources to supply our nuclear fuel needs for years to come. Our nuclear fuel supply chain must begin with American uranium and end with American fuel.”
Besides the ban talk, interest in Wyoming uranium also is rising because of a forecast for building hundreds of small modular nuclear power reactors throughout the U.S. as an alternative to carbon-based fuels for generating power.
The proposed TerraPower project, a small modular nuclear plant in Kemmerer, also might come to rely on Wyoming uranium with Uranium Energy Corp. possibly tapping uranium from sites throughout the state.
“With small reactors coming, there’s some real opportunity there for growth,” said Travis Deti, executive director of the Wyoming Mining Association. “It’s good to see the industry come back.”
And still others have cited a Canadian trust that is hording uranium in the marketplace to cash out at a better price.
The Canadian firm, Sprott Physical Uranium Trust, invests and holds substantially all of its assets in uranium until demand for the commodity drives up price because of a lack of supply, observers of the Wyoming market said.
Building Strategic Reserves
Erin Campbell, state geologist and director of the Wyoming State Geological Survey, also cited the $75 million acquisition of domestically produced uranium by the United States over the past year to restock the nation’s strategic reserves as another reason for the boost in prices.
“The uranium mines are ready to restart,” Campbell said of the strategic reserve purchases. “Once that (uranium) was purchased, we saw lots of companies looking to restart their mines.”
She also said the market is favorable for uranium.
“With rising uranium prices, and purchases that (the Department of Energy) made for the strategic uranium reserves, the influx in capital has some wanting to reinvest in their operations,” she said. “Wyoming had been a leader in uranium production in the past, and it is well situated to ramp up production again.”
Wyoming Production To Jump
Donna Wichers, vice president of operations for Corpus Christi-Texas-based Uranium Energy Corp. in Casper, said that her firm has had two production operations in a caretaker status, called care and maintenance, since 2018 in Johnson and Campbell counties.
The company, which runs the Willow Creek project in those counties, has plans to ramp up production this year, Wichers said.
UEC is licensed to produce 2.5 million pounds annually, but is taking steps to apply with the state to add another 2 million pounds, she said.
“We will begin hiring people this month,” she said.
Restart of the project, which includes the Irigaray central processing plant and Christensen Ranch as a licensed and permitted satellite to the Irigaray operation, now employs 21 with another 10 possibly planned for hire in 2025, Wichers said.
“For us, we are doing this because the price of uranium has been rising over the past several months,” she said. “The supply and demand curve has changed significantly with small, modular reactors, and the excitement of nuclear power providing carbon-free power.”
John Cash, president and chief executive officer of Ur-Energy Inc. in Casper, said that his company restarted production last spring, hiring 50 workers.
“The commercial ramp up is underway now,” said Cash, who envisions hiring as many as 60 more workers should his business negotiate more utility contracts.
The growing demand for uranium could lead his firm to open up its Shirley Basin mine in Carbon County.
Ur-Energy, the largest producer in the U.S. through its Lost Creek operation in Wyoming, nailed down three major long-term contracts with electric utility giants over the past year. Those deals were viewed as the catalyst to boost uranium production, he said.
“Renewables are great, but they can’t do it on their own,” Cash said.
Pat Maio can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.