(Wyoming Business Report, August 24) – A new public information circular on uranium in Wyoming concludes that the future looks good for the heavy-metal element as a clean energy alternative to traditional fossil fuel sources.
The report — “Uranium: Geology and Applications” — which was issued today by the Wyoming State Geological Survey (WSGS), said the naturally occurring element has greatly benefited the state in the form of “jobs, tax revenues and economic diversification” since it was first mined in the state near Lusk in 1900. And that, despite a current downturn caused by an oversupply in the market, uranium could be a boon for Wyoming for years to come.
“The future of uranium remains strong, as there is a growing international and existing domestic demand,” the report states. “This stems from the growing demand for electric power from burgeoning economies, as well as from smaller nations trying to modernize and elevate their standard of living.”
According to the report, increasing demands for electricity, set against grown concerns over climate change and the environmental impact of coal and petroleum products, have led to nuclear energy receiving “a growing favorable opinion in light of concerns over CO2 emissions from fossil fuel-based electricity generation.”
Nuclear power plants do not emit CO2; the vapors seen coming from their large towers is actually steam created in the cooling the process.
“Advanced reactor and fuel technology have made nuclear power plants far more efficient than plants that burn fossil fuels and rising prices of harder-to-find petroleum energy sources have also led countries to choose nuclear over fossil fuels,” the circular said, concluding that given the world’s abundant supply, coupled with its “advantages over fossil fuels,” uranium usage should increase in coming years and “keep the industry strong for the foreseeable future.”
Wyoming holds the nation’s largest economically-viable uranium reserves, with 2.6 million pounds of yellowcake — the end product of the uranium mining process — produced by the state’s seven in-situ well sites in 2015, amounting to almost 78 percent of U.S. total production. Texas and Nebraska are the only other states where uranium is currently mined.
Globally, the U.S. ranked ninth in uranium production in 2015.
“Wyoming holds extensive uranium resources that have historically been important to the United States and that will be useful and significant for many years to come,” said WSGS Director Tom Drean. “We hope the public finds this circular useful in understanding its occurrence, associated geology, extraction and uses.”
Uranium’s significance as a commodity dates back to the 1940s, with its radioactive properties utilized in the medical field and in the construction of the world’s first nuclear weapons at the end of World War II.
“Demand for uranium skyrocketed in the post-war era in response to military, as well as nuclear powered electricity generation, needs,” said Robert Gregory, WSGS geologist and author of the circular.
Gregory said that among an array of uses, uranium “first and foremost” provides energy for the generation of electricity. “Worldwide, uranium demand continues to grow as more nations turn to nuclear as an alternative to fossil fuels,” he said.
Most of the currently producing in-situ well sites in the state are located in the energy-rich Powder River Basin, although major uranium deposits can be found in the Shirley, Wind River and Great Divide basins, as well. There are also smaller deposits in the Little Mountain area of the northern Bighorn Mountains and in the southeastern Greater Green River Basin. Wyoming’s most-famous and significant discovery of a uranium deposit was made by J.D. Love of the U.S. Geological Survey at Pumpkin Buttes in southwest Campbell County in 1951.
The 24-page public information circular provides a description of uranium, host rock formations, where it came from, major discoveries in Wyoming and how much are in reserves. There’s also information covering historical uses, early research, types of uranium mining and how the mineral fits into the nuclear fuel cycle.
The public information circular can be downloaded at no charge.
For more on Wyoming’s uranium industry as it heads into the future, see the upcoming September print edition of the Wyoming Business Report.