Digging for uranium in Wyoming is approaching a feverish gold-rush pitch.
In just one week, prices on the uranium spot market have jumped 15% to $106 a pound, one of the fastest paces of growth in decades for the commodity.
They’ve nearly doubled from a year ago and are up 165% from the mid-$40 range when they first began showing some pop in late 2021.
In response to the price jolt in recent months, Wyoming’s uranium players have opened up mining and production.
Texas-based Uranium Energy Corp. and Ur-Energy Inc., both with operations in Casper, have confirmed plans to ramp up production and open mines.
Australian-based Peninsula Energy’s chief also sees significant expansion potential at its Lance project located northeast of Gillette.
In November 2023 at a precious metals summit in Zurich, Peninsula Energy’s Managing Director and CEO Wayne Heili said that his company is planning to build a processing plant and start uranium production with the fully permitted Lance project by the end of 2024.
Heili also said that there is a lot of exploration potential for its Strata unit at Lance because of its the huge land area.
A Peninsula Energy spokesman was unavailable for further comment.
Spokespersons for the Wyoming operations run by Canadian-based Cameco Corp. in Smith Ranch-Highland and Colorado-based Energy Fuels Inc. in Nichols Ranch were not immediately available for comment on their businesses.
Timing Is Right
The upward trend for uranium and resurgence of production comes at just the right time.
The all-time high for uranium spot prices hit $136 nearly 17 years ago in June 2007, at the height of George W. Bush administration’s friendly stance to restarting licensing for nuclear power plant construction.
Nuclear Policy Is Changing
But the nuclear renaissance never materialized as a deep recession hit the U.S. and administrations changed hands, and China jumped into the nuclear reactor building game. Then in 2011, the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan instilled global fear of the power source.
But over the past year, a buildup of a strategic uranium reserve by the federal government, possible legislation banning uranium purchases from Russia (which is being held up in the U.S. Senate by Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas), supply disruptions this month out of Kazakhstan and a coup in Niger halting exports have turned the spotlight on the United States – particularly Wyoming’s golden uranium reserves.
Jonathan Hinze, president of Atlanta-based UxC LLC, which tracks uranium spot prices on a nuclear fuel exchange, said the latest jolt in uranium prices this week has been sparked by a Canadian trust hording uranium in the marketplace to cash out at a better price.
That Canadian Firm
The Canadian firm, Sprott Physical Uranium Trust, which raised more than a $1 billion in the market last week, invests and holds substantially all of its assets in uranium until demand for the commodity drives up price because of a lack of supply, Hinze said.
Bad news out of Kazakhstan sparked a surge in the share prices of multiple uranium stocks last week when uranium mining company Kazatomprom warned that a lack of supply of sulfuric acid, used in the extraction of uranium metal from uranium ore, will cause it to miss production targets for as much as the next two years.
“The prices are strong and companies are to the point of restarting production,” said Travis Deti, executive director of the Wyoming Mining Association. “I think we are in a good place, and that public policy is changing.”
It’s a bit of a perfect storm for the industry.
“It looks like a tight market for quite a long time, at least for a couple of years,” Hinze said.
“There’s a good chance we’ll pass the all-time high. We’re only $30 from the high. We could certainly get there before the end of the year,” he said. “There may be a correction, but a return to $30-$40 is pretty hard to see anytime soon.
“I think certainly there were moves prior to the (Ukraine) war where utilities were looking to diversify and secure supplies in the U.S. and Wyoming,” he added. “The geopolitical situation has amplified that approach to buy from stable supply regions and jurisdictions.”
Wyoming is a hot source for uranium, said Hinze, who pointed to Arizona, Colorado and Texas as giving the Cowboy State a run for its money.
Certainly, “U.S. uranium mining is back,” said Hinze.
Pat Maio can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.