Uranium

Wyoming is America’s leader in uranium production with an estimated 2.9 million pounds produced in 2014. Presently the uranium produced in Wyoming is mined in-situ (meaning “in place”) with the mineral being pumped from the ground and processed into yellowcake at facilities on the surface.

Uranium is one of the most common elements on earth. In ancient times it was used in pigments and glazes, but since 1950 the primary use for this mineral is as fuel for nuclear power plants.

Wyoming’s known reserves are estimated at about 106 million pounds at $30 per pound and 350 million pounds at $50 per pound. About one pound of uranium can produce the same amount of power as 20,000 pounds of coal.

A Citizen’s Guide to Uranium Mining

Uranium Facts

  • Wyoming is America’s leader in uranium production with an estimated 2.9 million pounds produced in 2014 – about 65% of American production.
  • More than 13% of the world’s electricity is generated from uranium in nuclear reactors.
  • Uranium is the second heaviest metal in the periodic table.
  • Uranium actually occurs in most rocks and is one of the most common elements in the Earth’s crust.
  • The element was discovered in 1789 by Martin Klaproth, a German chemist.
  • Uranium was formed in supernova, about 6.6 billion years ago, and provides the main source of heat inside the Earth.
  • Uranium is so dense it is used in the keels of yachts and as counterweights for aircraft control surfaces, as well as radiation shields.

In-Situ Mining

In-situ mining is an environmentally friendly process involving minimal surface disturbance through extracting uranium from sandstone aquifers by reversing the natural process that deposited the uranium.

Uranium mining companies use detailed mapping techniques to locate the uranium and then design the wells to fit the specifications of the site.

At its most basic, in-situ mining is a process by which the miners drill a well straight down to where the uranium sits in the aquifers. A special leaching solution of dissolved oxygen and carbon dioxide is delivered to the uranium-bearing strata through the injection wells. Once in contact with the uranium, the solution dissolves the uranium into the ground water, which is then pumped back up to the surface.

Once mining is complete, the aquifer is restored by pumping fresh water through it until the ground water meets the pre-mining use.

In-situ mining has several advantages over conventional uranium surface mining. First, the environmental impact is minimal, as the affected water is restored when the mining is finished. Second, it’s lower in cost, allowing Wyoming’s low grade deposits to compete globally with the high grade deposits in Canada. Finally, the method is safe and proven resulting in minimal employee exposure to health risks.

Uses

Uranium is a silvery-white metallic element with the second highest atomic weight of all naturally occurring elements.

Three Mile IslandMore than 13% of the world’s electricity is generated from uranium in nuclear reactors, which amounts to more than 2,500 billion kWh each year, as much as from all other sources of electricity (coal, gas, solar, etc.) worldwide.

In ancient times uranium was used in pigments and glazes but since 1950 the primary use for uranium is as a fuel for nuclear power plants. Other uses include:

US NavyMilitary: Depleted uranium is used to create high-density projectiles including those used to pierce armored targets. Armor for vehicles, such as tanks, is made from uranium plating. It is also used in shielding containers that store radioactive materials and is a power source for submarines and ships.

XRay

Civilian: The main use for uranium is in nuclear power plants, but it is also used in a variety of everyday goods. Uranium radioisotopes are used in smoke detectors and in ballasts to stabilize yachts and airplanes.

Scientific: Uranium is used in the scientific world to help date the age of the earth because of its long half life. It is also used as a target for high-powered x-ray machines.