Uranium company founder upbeat
A boost in the price of uranium would help assure the economic viability of a proposed uranium mill in the Paradox Valley, but technological developments could make it possible for a mill to operate even with lower prices, the founder of Energy Fuels Inc. said.
George Glasier, who founded the company that is pursuing construction of the mill near Naturita in western Montrose County, said that even though uranium prices now are low, that’s unlikely to remain the case.
“The world is on the verge of a shortage in uranium based on the supply side and on the demand side,” Glasier said Wednesday at the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce energy briefing.
The United States, which has 104 nuclear reactors, is in the process of constructing four more and is now importing 90 percent of the fuel it needs for those generating stations, Glasier said. Much of the foreign supply is likely to dry up next year when Russia ceases to export highly enriched uranium originally intended for use in nuclear weapons.
An increase in domestic demand could drive up the price of uranium, making construction of a mill a more attractive proposition, Glasier said.
Uranium prices of $60 to $70 a pound would make the proposed $150 million mill economically viable, he said.
The spot price of uranium is now about $43.50 a pound.
Energy Fuels still has to regain its radioactive-materials-handling license in an administrative hearing in which testimony is to be taken next month.
Glasier, who no longer has a management role in Energy Fuels, is working to take such a post in a new company, Black Range Minerals, to move forward a new technology that would allow uranium ore to be treated at the mine site in a process that would remove 90 percent of unwanted material from uranium ore.
Ablation, as the process is known, calls for the sandstones that bear uranium to be crushed into one another in such a way that the sandy material is separated from the ore in a patented process that requires only water to form a slurry. It requires no acid, as is needed in milling.
While ablation can remove most of the unwanted material, the remainder still would require milling, but the costs of the process would be reduced. It also would be less expensive and easier to transport material to mills after ablation, which would result in a substance with a toothpaste-like consistency, he said.
The use of ablation might make a mill such as Pinyon Ridge economical at $40 a pound, Glasier said.
Black Range Minerals is in the process of building a commercial-sized ablation machine that could be mounted on a flatbed and used for cleanup of dump sites at existing mines. Ablation would yield small quantities of uranium from the low-grade material and a fine, sandy material that could be left in place, Glasier said.