Uranium

Wyoming’s uranium industry moved closer to its goal of being regulated by the state instead of the federal government on Monday.

The Legislature’s Joint Minerals Committee voted to introduce a bill that would allow the Department of Environmental Quality to take over from the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Transferring the regulatory responsibilities is estimated to cost 4 million dollars. Shannon Anderson with the Powder River Basin Resource Council told the committee that the industry should have to pay for that.

There’s disagreement over whether industry should pay for the state to take over regulation of uranium mining. The Legislature’s Joint Minerals Committee reviewed a draft bill Thursday that would start the transfer of regulatory power from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. 

A bacteria found naturally in the soil around uranium deposits may become a powerful tool in cleaning up old mine sites. A group of University of Wyoming scientists are collaborating with Cameco, a uranium mining company in Converse County. They’re experimenting with the bacteria’s ability to convert soluble uranium that can contaminate groundwater into less harmful solid form.

The Department of Energy is closely monitoring the potential for flooding this spring at the site of a former uranium mill on the Wind River Indian Reservation. Tailings from the mill contaminated groundwater in the area decades ago. DOE had planned to let the uranium dissipate naturally over the next century, then flooding in 2010 caused an unexpected spike in contamination levels.

Stephanie Joyce

Uranium producers in Wyoming are optimistic about the future, despite a recent slump in prices. The uranium market tanked after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, with the indefinite shutdown of Japan’s reactors, but speaking during a panel discussion at the Wyoming Energy Summit this week, uranium mining executives like Donna Wichers of Uranium One said while it’s been a setback, it’s just that.

A program that recycled Russian nuclear weapons into fuel-grade uranium has run its course, and Wyoming Mining Association Director Marion Loomis says that may leave more room in the marketplace for Wyoming’s uranium. 

It would cost at least $4.5 million dollars for Wyoming to take over regulatory control of the uranium and thorium mining industries from the federal government, according to a new feasibility study from the Department of Environmental Quality. 

Deputy Director Nancy Nuttbrock says that estimate only takes into account the six years it would take to get the program running -- not it’s actual operations.

Wyoming’s newest uranium mine is on the cusp of receiving permits from the federal government.

The Bureau of Land Management released a final environmental impact statement for the proposed Gas Hills Uranium Mine last week. The mine would be located roughly 45 miles east of Riverton, and would supply the Smith Ranch-Highland production facility in Converse County.

Cameco Resources is proposing in-situ mining for the Gas Hills project. That involves using underground chemical washing to extract the uranium.

If Wyoming wants to take over regulation of uranium, thorium and other radioactive materials from the federal government, it’s going to be a lot of work. That was the message the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality delivered to a legislative committee last week.

The agency won’t release a final feasibility report until December, but deputy director Nancy Nuttbrock said legislators should brace themselves for a complicated, and expensive, process.

US Department of Energy

Production at Lost Creek uranium facility is exceeding expectations.

Ur-Energy’s Lost Creek mine started producing uranium in early August. Less than two months into production, Vice President of Operations Steven Hatten, says the facility is functioning well above projected levels.

“Field conditions have presented themselves in a more positive light than laboratory conditions may have predicted,” Hatten says. 

Wyoming has received the first draft of a study it commissioned to determine whether it would be feasible to regulate uranium exclusively in-state.

Uranium extraction is currently regulated by a number of state and federal agencies. But if Wyoming decides to become what’s called an “agreement state,” it could cut the federal agencies out of the process. That would potentially expedite the permitting process for operators.  

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is taking public comments on a proposed uranium mine in eastern Fremont County.

Canada-based Strathmore Resources proposes to mine uranium using conventional or open-pit methods and to process the uranium into yellowcake on site.

The BLM says surface disturbance with pits, spoils storage, material storage and roads and processing facilities would total about 2,000 acres.

Public comments are due to the BLM's Lander Field Office by Sept. 9.

US Department of Energy

The Department of Energy says that the high levels of uranium at a contaminated site on Wind River Reservation might not flush out of the groundwater naturally in 100 years, like they previously thought.  

Tailings from a uranium mill that functioned at the Riverton Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act site in the 1960s left the area’s groundwater with high levels of uranium and the DOE took over management of the site in the late ‘80s.

US Department of Energy

The Department of Energy and the Tribal Joint Business Council have signed a cooperative agreement for one year to address the work being done on the contaminated uranium mill tailings site on the Wind River Indian Reservation.


The Riverton Site is where a uranium and vanadium ore processing facility operated until the 1960s. The DOE is responsible for long-term management of the site, but the Tribes have pushed for more involvement in the process.

Energy Fuels Inc. plans to acquire Strathmore Minerals Corporation, a move that will establish Energy Fuels as one of the biggest uranium companies in the U.S. The organizations have signed a letter of intent, under which Strathmore shareholders will end up owning about 20% of Energy Fuels shares.

CEO of Strathmore, David Miller, says the companies are a good match for each other. Both organizations have Wyoming projects.   

The uranium market is slowing after a brief boom in the years after 2005. Increasing costs for the industry and uncertainty are making operators reconsider projects.

Cameco Resources’ President Paul Goranson told the legislature’s Joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development Interim Committee that Cameco will now aim to increase production to about 36 million pounds of yellowcake by 2018…rather than the previously announced 40 million pounds.

The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality has started work on a study to determine the feasibility of regulating a larger share of uranium mining in the state.

Currently the industry is regulated by both federal and state agencies, which some operators say is burdensome, repetitive, and increases the time necessary to receive a permit. The legislature passed a bill this session commissioning the study about becoming what’s called an agreement state.

Gov. Mead releases WY energy policy

May 13, 2013

Governor Matt Mead and his policy director, Shawn Reese, released an energy policy for Wyoming at a press conference today. The policy contains 47 initiatives broken down into categories including economic competitiveness and expansion, regulation, conservation, and education. Reese said there were a number of hallmark initiatives.

The US Department of Energy has released data from sampling the agency did at the Riverton Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act Site in August. The area, which is on the Wind River Indian Reservation, was contaminated with uranium and vanadium in the late 1950s  and early 1960s, when a uranium mill processed ore there. In the ‘90s the DOE recommended waiting for natural dissolution to clean the site, and levels of contamination seemed to be diminishing predictably until a big flood in 2010.

A uranium exploration company has found an area that seems promising for uranium mining near Baggs, in south-central Wyoming.

Crosshair Energy Corporation completed a soil survey and found additional areas with high levels of radon, which indicates uranium in the ground.

Crosshair Vice President Tom Bell says that’s good news for the company.

“Right now we have a resource that’s about five million pounds of uranium in the ground,” Bell said. “And we think that we can add a significant amount of additional pounds of uranium in this new area that we’re moving into.”

The U.S. Department of Energy will run additional groundwater tests at a Riverton site contaminated with uranium. The Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act site was contaminated after hosting a uranium mill there in the 1960’s.  

What’s your opinion on a potential increase of uranium mining in Wyoming?

WPM/NPR Community Discussion Rules

Courtesy of Cameco

Intro:    For the last several years a number of companies and politicians have expressed interest in getting more actively involved in Wyoming’s Uranium industry.  Currently a task force of lawmakers is studying nuclear energy production and companies are testing the waters before they jump into the marketplace.  The upside is that Wyoming has a lot of Uranium, the downside is cost and regulations.  Wyoming Public Radio’s Bob Beck has more.

Irina Zhorov

HOST: Everyone is predicting a uranium boom internationally and Wyoming has the largest deposits in the U.S. The state has a legacy of uranium mining, as well. Wyoming Public Radio’s Irina Zhorov looks at the boom and its history.

Dean Fitzgerald

HOST: When the Cold War caused a uranium boom in the 1950s, soil and water in the state suffered contamination. Reclamation has improved the landscape, and regulation is catching up with the industry  but it’s not perfect yet. Wyoming Public Radio’s Rebecca Martinez reports.

REBECCA MARTINEZ: Ore from Wyoming’s rich uranium deposits was refined and concentrated into yellowcake at mills in the state before being sent to processing and enrichment facilities elsewhere. The mills produced large amounts of sandy waste called tailings, which still contained uranium.

Uranium industry growth has challenges

Jun 15, 2012

Many people hope that Wyoming’s uranium industry will become much more active, as interest in nuclear energy grows. 

University of Wyoming Ag Economist Tex Taylor says there is a lot of potential for increased employment and tax revenue for the state.  But Wyoming Senator Eli Bebout, who chairs the Senate Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee, says new and smaller companies are often stymied by the state and federal permitting process and other regulatory hurdles. 

Tristan Ahtone

HOST: As we just heard, the uranium industry may have a long way to go in earning back the public’s trust, especially on the Wind River Reservation. In 2010, the Department of Energy released well monitoring data from the Wind River Reservation. What they found was that uranium levels in a number of their wells had spiked up to 100 times the legal limit. In early May the Department of Energy released tap test results showing uranium levels nearly twice the legal limit, but later said the results were anomalies.

With uranium mining making a comeback across the country and especially Wyoming, a recent government report recommends that better coordination between federal agencies is needed for financial assurances  and that agencies need to update databases to find out how many abandoned mines actually exist in the U.S.

Government Accountability Office and environmental director, Anu Mittal  says in situ mining - a process where operators inject chemicals and water underground to pump uranium back to the surface for processing, may also pose future problems.

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