Canadian-based Nuclear Fuels Inc., a uranium exploration company spun off from a giant producer in Texas last summer as prices for the commodity began to push to historic levels, has identified substantial uranium deposits in the coal-rich Powder River Basin.
Nuclear Fuels CEO Michael Collins told Cowboy State Daily that his company has drilled in several spots within a 42-square mile area near Kaycee in Johnson County that show evidence of more than 2 million pounds of recoverable uranium.
“We and others see uranium as a key part of baseload power going forward in America, especially as small, modular reactors come into play,” Collins said. “There are a lot of projections for growth in the nuclear business, and more uranium is needed.”
The drilling is the first step in a long process to bring uranium mining to the point of production, which could optimistically happen at the Kaycee site before 2030, Collins said.
Nuclear Fuels has a target of finding 15 million pounds over the next several months before it begins the three- to five-year process of securing mining licenses to build an in-situ recovery operation, considered a much cleaner path to mine than one with tailings and production facilities.
“Hopefully we’ll come up with enough pounds in the ground to come up with a proposal to begin production,” said Collins, adding he hopes a decision can be made within the year.
Sat In A Warehouse For Years
An in-situ recovery operation involves pumping oxygenated water with hydrogen peroxide and bicarbonate of soda into the ground to get at the uranium, Collins explained. The uranium is dissolved and pumped to the surface, where the mineral is stripped from the water. The water stripped of uranium is then returned underground.
Nuclear Fuels claimed the rights to explore for uranium in the Kaycee area through the Bureau of Land Management, which had long ago archived data culled from old surveys of the commodity there, Collins said.
“The data sat dormant in the back of a warehouse for several years, but metal prices have since changed,” he said.
Nuclear Fuels picked up the data from Michigan’s Detroit Edison electric utility that had moved in another strategic direction when it exited the nuclear power business in the early 1980s. At the same time, the utility also walked away from old uranium mining claims – but not the permits to actually mine.
“That was when uranium was not a big thing of interest for power companies,” he said. “Power companies shelved nuclear power plant construction and walked away.”
Collins points to a turnaround in public support of nuclear power as other uranium players in the Wyoming market have announced plans to reopen uranium production lines as prices have climbed to over $100 a pound.
He also cited the emergence of small, modular nuclear power plants like the one proposed by TerraPower near Kemmerer as driving the rush to mine uranium in Wyoming. TerraPower has said that it may build other nuclear plants in Wyoming besides the demonstration project in Kemmerer that are located elsewhere in Rocky Mountain Power’s service territory.
Other miners have jumped into the uranium rush in Wyoming.
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.
Wyoming operations run by Canadian-based Cameco Corp. and Colorado-based Energy Fuels Inc. in Nichols Ranch also have interest in mining Cowboy State uranium.
Pat Maio can be reached at email@example.com.