(Gillette News Record, July 31) – The axiom that slow and steady wins the race may have first been uttered by a uranium miner.
After five years of planning, permitting and cajoling various federal agencies, the proposed 6,000-acre Reno Creek Uranium Project is one hurdle away from production.
“We’re one substantial permit away, so that’s good news,” he said. “I imagine that will come sometime next year. When next year, I have no idea.”
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is reviewing AUC’s application now, Viellenave said, adding the company is “very optimistic” about clearing the last bit of red tape with the NRC to begin putting its production plan in place.
“This is sometimes a more difficult process than another business, but every business is fraught with challenges,” he said. “You have to see that because permitting is so time-consuming and expensive … everybody applies for the largest size facility they think they could ever use.”
That’s why AUC’s applications have included plans to build a plant that can produce up to 2 million pounds of yellowcake uranium a year, Viellenave said. In reality, the mine will likely produce between 1 million and 1.5 million pounds a year, which would still make it one of the largest uranium plays in the United States.
At about 3 million pounds per year, Wyoming already is the leading producer of yellowcake uranium in the U.S., he said, adding that mining for the radioactive catalyst used in nuclear reactors is an industry that’s slowly been on the rebound since the disasters at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl decades ago.
“Back in the days of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, it really hit the uranium market hard,” Viellenave said. “At that time, the market pretty much died in the United States. Then back 10 years ago when there was a lot of nuclear power plants being built, the price recovered and everybody went back and looked at those deposits that had been abandoned for years.”
That’s what AUC did, and Viellenave said the potential of the Reno Creek mine is “outstanding.”
According to the company’s anticipated schedule for the project, it’s about a year behind already, mostly because of difficulties gauging just how long the complete permitting process would take, he said. Adjusting for that year, AUC plans to build its plant next year, then mine for about 16 years and be complete with reclamation and have the land released to its owners in 20 years.
The mining itself will happen in small 100-acre plots at a time, and because it uses injection technology to extract the uranium, it has a small footprint on the environment.
By the time operations start, the company estimates it will have already invested about $130 million into the project and that operating expenses will be about $16 million annually. The plan also calls for between 75 and 90 full-time employees and an annual payroll of about $5.5 million.
“Over the life of the project, AUC anticipates paying up to $100 million in severance taxes, property and ad valorem taxes, land owner payments and royalties,” according to a company fact sheet about the Reno Creek Uranium Project. “This is in addition to sales taxes paid on equipment and materials purchased for construction and operations.”