The US accelerates mining as uranium prices increase

Energy Fuels - America's largest uranium producer - increased exploitation when global instability and rising demand caused this nuclear material to increase in price.

The largest uranium producer in the US is ramping up mining at Pinyon Plain Mine (Arizona) near the South Rim entrance of Grand Canyon National Park. This is a long-controversial project that has been largely dormant since the 1980s. It was restarted recently when uranium prices rose.

The mine covers an area of ​​6.8 hectares and will operate for 3 to 6 years, producing at least 2 million pounds (about 907,000 kg) of uranium - enough to power the state of Arizona for at least a year, according to the developer. Energy Fuels speaker Curtis Moore.

"As global prospects for clean, carbon-free nuclear energy grow and the United States moves away from Russian uranium supplies, domestic demand for uranium is growing," Moore said.

Earlier this year, the spot price of concentrated uranium used in nuclear power generation reached a 16-year peak, reaching $92.45 per pound, up more than 200% compared to the end of 2020. Analysts from the Bank of America and Berenberg Bank predict that the uranium market is getting hotter and hotter, possibly pushing prices above $100.

Bank of America said the tightening in the uranium market could last until 2025, suggesting prices could move higher this year. They raised their uranium spot price target to $105 per pound by 2024 and $115 next year.

According to uranium market data firm UxC, uranium demand is surging as contracts signed by power companies reached $202 million last year, the highest value since 2012. even tighter," Jonathan Hinze, President of UxC said on the Wall Street Journal.

A shaft tower at the Pinyon Plain Mine uranium mine on January 31. Photo: AP

Energy Fuels is also preparing to open two more mines in Colorado and Wyoming, which have produced about two-thirds of the uranium in the United States over the past five years. In 2022, the company received a contract to sell uranium concentrate worth 18.5 million USD to the US government to create a national strategic reserve, in case external supplies are interrupted.

The US and dozens of other countries have pledged to triple nuclear power capacity worldwide to fight climate change. The country offers incentives to develop the next generation of nuclear reactors, along with policies aimed at reducing Russia's influence from the nuclear supply chain. This paves the way for domestic uranium to remain an important commodity for decades to come.

The US Department of Commerce under the Trump administration issued a report describing domestic uranium production as necessary for national security, to maintain nuclear arsenals and operate power plants. At that time, commercial nuclear reactors provided nearly 20% of the electricity consumed in the United States.

The Biden administration maintains that position. They are in the process of modernizing their national nuclear defense capabilities worth billions of dollars. The US Department of Energy this week offered to loan Michigan power plant owners $1.5 billion to restart shuttered facilities.

But as the government pursues nuclear power's potential, environmentalists and Native American leaders remain concerned about the environmental consequences for communities near mining sites. They are demanding better monitoring.

According to AP , tribal communities in the American West have lost trust in uranium companies and the federal government because of abandoned mines and related pollution that have not been completely resolved.

In 1979, more than 93 million gallons (350 million liters) of radioactive sludge and acid spilled from a tailings pond at the Navajo mine complex, contaminating water sources, livestock and downstream communities. It was three times the amount of radiation emitted from the incident at Three Mile Island (Pennsylvania) just three months earlier.

There is bipartisan support in Congress for nuclear energy, but some lawmakers from affected communities remain concerned. At a congressional meeting in January, Missouri congresswoman Cori Bush said it is impossible to expand nuclear energy in the United States without addressing the impacts nuclear waste has on minority communities.

With the Pinyon Plain Mine, the US Forest Service reaffirmed an environmental impact statement that was prepared many years ago. State regulators have approved air and aquifer protection permits within the past two years.

According to authorities, the area's geology provides natural protection against water from the site as the falls move toward the Grand Canyon. Moore said that the aquifers in the area that feed springs at the bottom of the Grand Canyon are very deep – about 1,000 feet (304 meters) below the mine – and are separated by nearly impenetrable rock.

"We work extremely hard to carry out our work to the highest standards. What we are doing is backed by science and regulation," he declared.

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