Uranium demonstrated that despite disruptions and even a global pandemic, it is still one of the best-performing commodities in the resource industry, according to leading strategists. With the current demand for the valuable mineral outreaching present supply, the world is seeing a bullish uranium market like never before.
The biggest uranium producers in Canada, Australia, Kazakhstan and Namibia saw mine closures and production cuts in 2020, leading to a 13-million-pound decline but significantly higher prices for the mineral. With mining operations slowly coming back online, US and Western-centric uranium companies leverage a chance to get a head start on the international competition and bullish market conditions that are hard to ignore.
Energy Fuels Inc. (NYSE:UUUU) is the largest producer of uranium in the US and holds the biggest in-ground uranium resource portfolio of any producer or near-producer.
Energy Fuels is the only uranium producer with both conventional production and in situ recovery (ISR) in the US. Its standalone White Mesa Mill is the only conventional uranium mill in the country and leverages early-mover advantages in current production, scalability, capacity and regional dominance. In 2019, the White Mesa Mill became the number one producer of vanadium in the US, with production levels reaching 1.9 million pounds at 99.7 percent high-purity vanadium. And, in 2021, the White Mesa Mill began commercial production of an intermediate rare earth product at a stage more advanced than any other US company.
The mill boasts strategic positioning near highly prospective conventional uranium projects owned by Energy Fuels and other miners. This portfolio includes the La Sal and Henry Mountain/Bullfrog projects in Utah, the Roca Honda project in New Mexico, and the Sheep Mountain project in Wyoming. All projects host substantial uranium mineralization and benefit from mining-friendly conditions.
The company’s main, short-term conventional operation is the Pinyon Plain mine in Arizona. This high-grade uranium production asset could become the lowest-cost uranium mine in the U.S., leveraging advanced stage positioning. The asset is currently licensed, developed and being held on stand-by and well maintained by Energy Fuels in preparation for improving markets.
Energy Fuels offers excellent leverage to rising uranium prices and is well-positioned to capitalize on the growing need for additional domestic and global uranium supplies. The company also expects to earn additional revenue through third-party recycling and toll processing, production of other valuable minerals (including rare earth and vanadium), and other business opportunities at its White Mesa Mill.
In 2021, the company added Rare Earth Elements (REE) to its robust portfolio of critical metal production in an effort to transform the company into “America’s Critical Mineral Hub,”
as described by Energy Fuels’ president and CEO Mark S. Chalmers. Future plans for the company include focusing on significant uranium production at the White Mesa Mill while also developing a complementary, fully integrated REE business.
Energy Fuels could be the “missing link” in the US rare earth element production
Energy Fuels is moving fast to restore critical REE supply chains. The company began processing monazite to “mixed REE carbonate” – the most advanced REE material being produced in the US today. The company also started pilot-scale REE separation producing 99.8 percent purity NdPr oxide. Currently, Energy Fuels is conducting commercial-scale REE separation and production of mixed REE carbonate, containing 32 percent to 34 percent neodymium and praseodymium.
Energy Fuels entered into three long-term uranium sales contracts with US nuclear utilities for a total of 3 million pounds with deliveries to occur between 2023 and 2030. Total delivery quantities could increase to as much as 4.2 million pounds. In December 2022, Energy Fuels also received a contract to sell $18.5 million of natural uranium concentrates to the U.S. government for the establishment of a strategic uranium reserve.
The company completed the acquisition of 17 mineral concessions between the towns of Prado and Caravelas in Bahia, Brazil totaling 15,089.71 hectares. The Bahia property is a potentially low-cost, long-term source of “elements” which can produce 3,000 – 10,000 tonnes of monazite sand concentrate per year (1,500 – 5,000 tonnes TREO). The Bahia Project is expected to supply the raw materials needed by the Company's US facility for the production of advanced rare earth materials used in EVs, clean energy, and defense technologies.
“We figured that one of the best ways to secure additional sources of monazite is to own a mine. The project in Brazil has a very significant size and is scalable. We're still doing the due diligence and we're excited about it. It's our goal as Energy Fuels to be a fully integrated rare earth producer as well as the largest producer of uranium in the United States. When you invest in Energy Fuels, you get both uranium and rare earth and that is unique to Energy Fuels. Nobody else in the world provides that optionality,” said Mark Chalmers, president and CEO of Energy Fuels in an interview with INN.
Energy Fuels has an impressive management team consisting of resource development, finance and M&A heavyweights. With over a century of combined experience in related fields, this leadership primes the company for economic success and exciting uranium production expansion.
- Energy Fuels is the largest uranium producer in the US and has received a contract to sell $18.5 million of uranium to the US Uranium Reserve.
- Energy Fuels is currently producing rare earth element (REE) carbonate – a product more advanced than any other US company, with a total production of approximately 205 tonnes of mixed REE carbonate, containing approximately 95 tonnes of total rare earth oxides (TREO) during the first nine months of 2022.
- The company is also quickly advancing toward full-integration of a US-centric rare earth supply chain. White Mesa Mill in Utah is the only conventional uranium and vanadium mill operating in the US. It leverages an impressive annual capacity of over 8 million pounds of uranium.
- The Nichols Ranch ISR project is an existing ISR facility in Wyoming, licensed to produce two million pounds of uranium per annum.
- The company completed the sale of three wholly owned subsidiaries that together hold Energy Fuels' Alta Mesa ISR Project to enCore Energy Corp. for a total consideration of $120 million.
- The company operates significant future scalability potential with three large-scale uranium projects containing over 50 million pounds of combined measured and indicated resources at the Sheep Mountain (fully-permitted), Roca Honda (advanced-stage permitting) and Bullfrog projects or Henry Mountains Complex (pre-permitting stage).
- The company executes its alliance with RadTran to evaluate the recovery of thorium and radium from its existing rare earth carbonate and uranium process streams for use in the production of medical isotopes for emerging targeted alpha therapy cancer therapeutics.
- Energy Fuels entered into three long-term uranium sales contracts with US nuclear utilities for a total of three million pounds with deliveries to occur between 2023 and 2030.
- The company acquired 17 mineral concessions totaling 15,089.71 hectares in Bahia, Brazil. The Bahia property is a potentially low-cost, long-term source of “elements” which can produce 3,000 to 10,000 tonnes of monazite sand concentrate per year (1,500 to 5,000 tonnes TREO).
White Mesa Mill
The White Mesa Mill is strategically located in southeast Utah, central to high-grade uranium and vanadium mines in the United States. The mill is the only fully licensed and operating conventional uranium mill in the United States and operates extensive controls to ensure air, water, wildlife and environmental sustainability. The White Mesa Mill just began production of an intermediate rare earth product (mixed rare earth carbonate) and also has the capability of producing a high-purity vanadium product.
Since 2013, the mill has produced over six million pounds of uranium, reaching highs of 917,000 pounds of uranium in 2018. The asset has a licensed capacity to produce over eight million pounds of uranium per year. The mill has an ideal positioning to generate revenue through third-party toll milling, recycling low-cost alternate feed materials and participating in the cleanup of historic uranium mines in the region.
White Mesa Mill provides the company with a multitude of business opportunities, including the production of uranium, rare earths and vanadium. The mill gives Energy Fuels early-mover domination in the uranium space as one of only two operating conventional uranium mills in North America
- The White Mesa Mill is the only facility in North America currently able to process monazite for recovery of REEs
- Mill has a licensed capacity to process ~720,000 tons of ore per year and is currently processing ~1,000 tons of monazite per year (~0.1 percent of annual capacity). The company aims to process ~15,000 to 30,000 tons of monazite per year (~2 to 4 percent of annual capacity)
- ~50 percent of feed is recovered as finished REE & uranium product
- Waste will use less than 2 percent of capacity in the existing, 1,000-year design tailings management system
Nichols Ranch ISR Project
The Nichols Ranch ISR project is located in the prolific Powder River Basin of Wyoming. Energy Fuels acquired this key production asset in 2015 through its acquisition of Uranerz Energy Corporation.
In 2017, Energy Fuels produced about 366,000 pounds of uranium at Nichols Ranch and produced over 140,000 pounds of uranium the year later. The company currently has an additional 34 wellfields permitted for future production as market conditions warrant, ensuring a long-term production profile.
The Nichols Ranch ISR project has measured and indicated mineral resources of 2.8 million pounds of uranium and 1.1 million tons of mineralized material at an average grade of 0.13 percent uranium oxide.
- Fully licensed by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission
- Total licensed capacity of 2 million pounds of uranium per year
- Significant expansion potential
- Extensive controls are in place to ensure the protection of air, water, wildlife and the environment
Pinyon Plain Mine
The Pinyon Plain mine in Arizona is a licensed and substantially developed uranium mine that hosts the highest grade permitted mineralization in the US. The mine is currently on standby awaiting improved prices, and its surface infrastructure and production shaft are completed. Energy Fuels owns 100 percent of the asset.
The mine hosts measured and indicated uranium resources at 2.43 million pounds at average grades of 0.88 percent uranium. The company intends to ship ore produced from the mine to its White Mesa Mill for processing. Pinyon Plain also has the potential to become a significant copper producer with measured and indicated copper resources of 11.94 million pounds at average grades of 5.93 percent copper.
The asset could become the lowest-cost uranium mine in the US. The asset is currently on stand-by.
Henry Mountains Complex
The Henry Mountains complex is a contiguous group of uranium properties, including the Tony M and Southwest deposit and the Copper Bench and the Indian Bench (Bullfrog) deposits in Utah. Its NI 43-101 technical report shows approximately 2.5 million tons of indicated resources with an average grade of 0.27 percent uranium and approximately 1.61 million tons of inferred resources with an average grade of 0.25 percent uranium.
The fully-permitted and developed Tony M portion of the Henry Mountains complex is currently on standby, with the high-grade Bullfrog deposit preparing for permitting. Energy Fuels estimates Henry Mountain could produce up to 1.5 million pounds of uranium per year as a strategic asset near the company’s White Mesa Mill.
La Sal Complex
The La Sal complex is a fully permitted and developed series of mines, including four uranium and vanadium mines (La Sal, Beaver, Energy Queen and Pandora) connected by an extensive network of underground workings. The complex is located in the La Sal mining district, Utah along the La Sal trend, which runs east to west for about 20 miles. Energy Fuels owns 100 percent of La Sal.
Past exploration of the asset includes production in early 2013 and test mining in 2019, revealing high-grade uranium and vanadium. La Sal hosts measured and indicated mineral resources hovering 4.1 million pounds of uranium and 21.5 million pounds of vanadium at average grades of 0.18 percent uranium and 0.94 percent vanadium.
Moving forward, Energy Fuels plans to continue with its readiness activities and expects to complete a surface and underground drilling program at the La Sal complex to potentially expand the known uranium and vanadium resources in a future resource report.
Sheep Mountain Project
The Sheep Mountain project is a fully permitted conventional uranium mine located approximately eight miles south of Jeffrey City, Wyoming, on a land package totaling 4,475 acres. The project includes the Congo pit, a proposed open-pit development and the existing Sheep Mountain underground mine.
The Sheep Mountain mine is a formerly producing conventional uranium mine with the potential to become a long-term uranium production center at higher uranium prices. The project has a resource estimate of approximately 12.9 million tons of measured and indicated resources at an average grade of 0.12 percent uranium, including 18.4 million pounds of reserves.
Energy Fuels has already strategically acquired its final environmental impact statement and record of decision for the Sheep Mountain project, which was the last major government approval required to begin mining at this site. Energy Fuels plans to redevelop Sheep Mountain using conventional underground and open-pit mining methods with uranium produced in a new heap leach extraction process. The pre-feasibility study estimates Sheep Mountain can produce up to 1.5 million pounds of uranium annually over its 15-year lifespan.
The Roca Honda project is located in northwest New Mexico within trucking distance of Energy Fuels’ White Mesa mill. Honda is one of the largest and highest-grade development-stage uranium projects in the US. Energy Fuels owns 100 percent of the project.
The project hosts 1.51 million tons of measured and indicated resources, with an average grade of 0.48 percent uranium containing 14.56 million pounds of uranium and an additional 1.20 million tons of inferred mineral resources with an average grade of 0.47 percent uranium containing 11.21 million pounds of uranium. Roca Honda has strategic positioning adjacent to General Atomics’ Mount Taylor mine and could see similarly successful yield as its geographic neighbor.
Energy Fuels is currently working towards advanced stages of permitting for Roca Honda and could see up to 2.7 million pounds of annual uranium production for the project over a nine-year mine life.
Mark Chalmers - President and CEO
Mark Chalmers brings an extensive background in both the US and global uranium mining and processing industries to Energy Fuels. From 2011 to 2015, he served as executive general manager of Production for Paladin Energy Ltd., a uranium producer with assets in Australia and Africa, including the Langer Heinrich and Kayelekera mines, where he oversaw sustained, significant increases in production while reducing operating costs.
Chalmers also possesses extensive experience in ISR uranium production, including management of the Beverley Uranium Mine owned by General Atomics in Australia and the Highland mine owned by Cameco Corporation. Chalmers has consulted with several of the largest players in the uranium supply sector, including BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Marubeni and currently serves as the Chair of the Australian Uranium Council, a position he has held since 2007.
David C. Frydenlund - CFO, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary
David Frydenlund’s expertise extends to NRC, EPA, State and Federal regulatory and environmental laws and regulations. From 1997 to 2012, Frydenlund was VP of Regulatory Affairs, counsel and corporate secretary of Denison Mines Corp. and its predecessor International Uranium Corporation and was also a director of IUC from 1997 to 2006. From 1996 to 1997, Frydenlund was a VP of the Lundin Group of international public mining and oil and gas companies. Before, he was a partner with the Vancouver law firm of Ladner Downs, where his practice focused on corporate, securities and international mining transactions law. He was also an adjunct professor, corporate law, at the University of British Columbia Faculty of Law from 1990 to 1994.
Curtis H. Moore - VP of Marketing and Corporate Development
Curtis Moore is in charge of product marketing for Energy Fuels and is closely involved in mergers and acquisitions, investor relations, public relations, and corporate law. He has been with Energy Fuels for over 14 years, holding various roles of increasing responsibility. Prior, Moore worked in multi-family real estate development, government relations and public affairs, production homebuilding and private law practice. He is a licensed attorney in the State of Colorado.