Ur-Energy Inc. announced plans to expand its Lost Creek uranium mine in south-central Wyoming to an area covering 38 km2 (15 sq miles).
With the expansion, the sites production of uranium would increase from about 362 t/a (800,000 lbs/year) to about 544 t/a (1.2 million lbs/year). Ur-Energy is betting on a rebound of uranium prices which have been weak since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.
Total permitted production would increase from 453 t to 997 t (1 million to 2.2 million lbs), which includes as much as 453 t (1 million lbs) brought to Lost Creek from elsewhere for processing into yellowcake, a uranium concentrate powder.
The Associated Press reported that the proposed expansion must be approved by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which is taking public comment on the move.
Nearly 60 percent of the 2.2 kt (4.9 million lbs) of uranium produced in the U.S. in 2014 came from Wyoming, home to four of the nation’s eight operational in situ uranium mines.
In situ mining involves drilling hundreds of injection and recovery wells across a wide area, instead of digging tunnels, as in a conventional mine. Chemicals such as hydrogen peroxide or sodium bicarbonate are pumped underground to dissolve uranium from surrounding deposits. Uranium-bearing solution is then pumped to the surface.
Spot prices for uranium were $37.25 a pound on Sept. 15, according to Ux Consulting, a nuclear information provider. That is about half of where they were in early 2011. Prices could recover as Japan restarts more of its 40 or so nuclear reactors, said Steve Hatten, Ur-Energy’s vice president of operations.
“While the demand is still there, it’s a very conservative market. We’re waiting to see not only what the Europeans are doing but also the Asian markets are doing,” Hatten told The Associated Press.
“The rate of the restart, we believe, will have an effect on the pricing,” he said.
Japan had shut down all of its nuclear reactors by September 2013 as the government developed stricter safety requirements after an earthquake and tsunami damaged the Fukushima Daiichi power plant and caused meltdowns at three reactors. The disaster also prompted Germany to phase out its reactors and other nations to rethink their commitment to nuclear energy.
Japan restarted its first reactor under the new regulations at the Sendai power plant last month.
The BLM will take public comments on the expansion until Oct. 29. If planning and permitting go smoothly, Hatten expects the expanded portion of the mine to go into operation in a year or two.
The new wells at Lost Creek, where production began in 2013, will target a formation about 150 m (500 ft) down, or about 30 m (100 ft) deeper than the existing wells, according to Hatten.