What is Uranium
Uranium Resources, Reserves and Economics
Like most mineral commodities, U.S. uranium reserves are highly dependent on market price. Uranium supply shortages or even the perception of a shortage can drive prices higher, leading to more exploration and ultimately increased production. Wyoming has more than 20 potential development projects under regulatory review and therefore is in a good position to increase production if worldwide demand continues to increase for uranium. If the price of yellowcake were $50 per pound, Wyoming hosts nearly 220 million pounds of economically viable, recoverable U3O8 (U.S. Energy Information Administration).
How much uranium does Wyoming have?
In order to determine how much uranium exists in Wyoming it is important to understand
what are deposits, resources, reserves and ore.
- Deposits—accumulations of any type of Earth material (rocks, sediments, minerals, etc.)
created by natural depositional processes such as water, wind or ice, as well as volcanism, chemical precipitation, etc.
- Resource—the material in a deposit that may eventually become economically recoverable or minable.
Since much of the Earth’s crust contains uranium, there are many potential resources.
- Ore—the material containing the mineral or minerals of economic value such as uranium, gold, or copper. Ore deposits
or ore bodies are continuous, well-defined accumulations of material containing enough ore
to make extraction economically feasible; they are the minable portions of the resource.
- Reserves—part of a deposit or resource that is proven to be economically recoverable at a profit
to a mining company and using existing technology under current economic conditions. Currently, Wyoming's uranium reserves are estimated at more than 200 million pounds of U3O8
Mining Methods and Economics
In-situ mining involves pumping fluids underground to release uranium into a solution that is pumped to the surface.
The economic viability of uranium mining is often largely dependent on the method of recovery. Conventional methods involve excavating, processing,
and extracting uranium into a fluid from from which yellowcake can be concentrated. In-situ recovery methods are relatively inexpensive compared to conventional methods
because in-situ revery avoids costly excavation as well as milling, heap leaching, and extensive reclamation. In this case, for a low grade ore, it is more economically beneficial
to mine using less expensive in-situ methods. Typically, an ore deposit that is not minable
by in-situ recovery will need to be significantly higher grade in order to be economic and to be classified as a
States with mineable uranium resources (tan) and currently producing states (brown).
Many countries contain mineable uranium resources. Australia holds the world’s largest resources with more than 1.24 million metric tons (one metric ton equals 2,205 pounds). The United States ranks ninth in resources and eighth in production in the world. Kazakhstan leads the world in production, supplying 38 percent of the global output in 2013 (World Nuclear Association, 2008).
The Future of Uranium Mining
The future of uranium appears to be strong due to increasing international demand and current domestic energy needs. Uranium will continue to play a key role in meeting the growing demand for electric power from burgeoning economies as well as from smaller nations trying to modernize
and elevate their standard of living. In the effort to meet society's electricity demands, nuclear energy has gained momentum, particularly because its reliability, efficiency and absence of CO2 emissions.
Advanced reactor and fuel technology have made nuclear power plants far more efficient than plants that burn fossil fuels.
The uncertainty of the price of petroleum energy sources has also led countries to choose nuclear power over fossil fuels.
Given the abundant supply of uranium that exists around the world and its advantages over fossil fuels, the use of uranium
may increase and keep the industry strong for the foreseeable future.
Bob Gregory (307) 766-2286 Ext. 237