Ballyhooed uranium mine now sits silent

The Whirlwind Mine in Gateway, once hailed as a rich source of uranium in a resurgent market, has been sitting idle since the economy plummeted.

Owned by Energy Fuels Inc. of Canada, the Whirlwind Mine produced tons of uranium in the 1950s. Eventually the price of uranium fell, and the mine closed. But in 2008 investors were eager to reopen the mine and take advantage of the rising worldwide demand for more uranium. The mine obtained all the federal and state clearances to open and employed a handful of miners who were readying the mine for full-time operations.

But when the markets tumbled, taking the price of uranium down with it, Energy Fuels made the decision to close the mine in November. 

“Right now we don’t have any immediate plans to reopen it. We have it in standby mode,” said Jeff Osborn, general manager of Energy Fuels in Denver. “We were geared up and ready to go, but we had to kind of put our plans in pause.”

For now the mine sits idle. Four people were laid off when it closed. But Energy Fuels is confident that when the economy rebounds, the market for uranium will be richer than ever.

“We are still bullish on the future. It is just a matter of timing,” Osborn said. “The fundamental story behind the uranium and the need for it is actually better than two years ago.”

There are now many nuclear plants across the globe being built or planned in emerging economies, such as China and India. Also, the many companies that had plans to supply the growing uranium market — such as Energy Fuels — have shelved plans to extract the resource, he said.

“Those same fundamentals that underlie the market are still out there,” Osborn said. “But the financial markets are driving a lot of industry in the world.”

While the economy slumbers, Energy Fuels is pursuing permits for a uranium mill in Naturita in southern Montrose County near the junction of Colorado highways 141, 145 and 90.

“We are continuing to gather reserves and working on our mines to have them in the best shape so we can have them in production (when the economy rebounds),” he said.


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