Uranium mining in the US was a bustling industry during the 1950s thanks to federal subsidies and rising global demand driven by nuclear weapons procurement programs.
Production climaxed in 1980, with over 250 operating mines producing 16,800 tonnes of uranium. But within four years, output had dropped abruptly to 50 mines producing 5,700 tonnes. Changing geopolitical circumstances, as well as safety, environmental and economic concerns over nuclear power plants, had drastically reduced demand.
Today, the US ranks 14th in the world for known uranium resources, with 62,900 tonnes of known resources, or roughly 1 percent of the world total. It was the ninth-largest producer of uranium in 2016, putting out 1,125 tonnes, and is the world’s largest generator and consumer of nuclear energy — nuclear energy provides 20 percent of the country’s power through 100 reactors.
Uranium mines in the US currently only produce about 5 to 10 percent of uranium used in the country — in 2016, five underground mines and several solution mining operations put out just 1,224 tonnes of uranium. However, the global nuclear renaissance has prompted a revival in exploration and plans to reopen old mines. Exploration projects have increased in quantity and scope in recent years, and there are now operating mines in Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, Southern Utah, Colorado and Texas.
Wyoming and New Mexico make up the majority of resources when it comes to uranium mining in the US, with Arizona, Nebraska and Texas making smaller contributions to production. Utah is also a significant player as it is home to the only uranium milling operation in the country.
Uranium mining in the US: Producing companies
As mentioned, uranium mining in the US is currently undertaken by few companies on a relatively small scale. Here’s a brief look at the major producers in the country; companies are listed by market cap in descending order, and all information was current as of August 15, 2017.
1. Cameco (TSX:CCO,NYSE:CCJ)
Market cap: C$4.88 billion
Cameco is the largest uranium producer in the US. It has two uranium mines in operation: the Smith Ranch-Highland mine in Wyoming’s Powder River basin and the Crow Butte mine in Nebraska, both of which are in-situ recovery mines. In 2016, annual production at Smith Ranch-Highland, which is the largest uranium mine in the country, was 358 tonnes of U3O8; during the same period, Crow Butte produced 89 tonnes of U3O8.
2. Uranium Energy (NYSEMKT:UEC)
Market cap: US$196.93 million
Uranium Energy is focused on Texas, and its Palangana in-situ recovery mine has been operating in the state since 2010. The company also holds the Burke Hollow in-situ recovery project, as well as the fully operational Hobson in-situ recovery plant. In May 2017, Uranium Energy acquired Pacific Road Resources’ Reno Creek project in Wyoming to bolster in-situ recovery projects in the area.
The company also owns quite a few other operations in Texas that are currently in the development and exploration phases: the Goliad in-situ recovery project, the Salvo project and the Longhorn project.
Market cap: C$150.39 million
Energy Fuels bills itself as the only company in the US with both conventional and in-situ recovery uranium production. Its Utah-based White Mesa mill is the only fully licensed and operating conventional uranium mill in the US, and its conventional uranium assets include the Canyon mine, and the Roca Honda, Sheep Mountain and Henry Mountains projects. All of those projects are located in the US.
In addition to its conventional properties, Energy Fuels owns and operates two in-situ recovery production facilities in the US: the Wyoming-based Nichols Ranch in-situ recovery plant and mine and the Alta Mesa in-situ recovery plant and mine, located in South Texas. The company’s Hank and Jane Dough projects could be future in-situ recovery production sites.
Last year, the company said its goal is to become the largest uranium producer in the US.
4. Ur-Energy (TSX:URE,NYSEMKT:URG)
Market cap: C$109.72 million
Ur-Energy’s main assets are the Lost Creek in-situ recovery plant and the Shirley Basin project, both located in Wyoming. Lost Creek has been producing since 2013, and has a design capacity of 2 million pounds per year. In addition to those assets, Ur-Energy owns two other uranium projects in Wyoming: the Lost Soldier project and the Lucky Mc mine site.
5. Peninsula Energy (ASX:PEN)
Market cap: AU$85.34 million
A more recent addition to the US uranium space is Peninsula Energy, an Australia-based company that owns the Lance in-situ recovery projects in Wyoming. The Lance projects started producing uranium in December 2015, and currently put out 400 pounds of uranium per day. The company has established contracts to sell 7.7 million pounds of uranium at US$54 per pound through 2030. The long-term contracts allows Peninsula to partially insulate itself from periods of low prices in the market.
Uranium mining in the US: Exploration companies
In addition to the producers above, uranium exploration is being conducted by many companies in the US. Many of them are operating in areas that were mined from the 1950s to the 1980s. They include: Azarga Uranium (TSX:AZZ), Laramide Resources (TSX:LAM), Uranium Resources (NASDAQ:URRE) and Western Uranium (CSE:WUC).
If we missed a company that is currently producing or exploring for uranium in the US, please let us know in the comments. All companies included had a market cap of at least $15 million as of August 15, 2017.
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This is an updated version of an article previously published by the Investing News Network in 2015.
Securities Disclosure: I, Sivansh Padhy, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.
Editorial Disclosure: Azarga Uranium, Energy Fuels and Western Uranium are clients of the Investing News Network. This article is not paid-for content.