By Alex Hargrave
Via- Wyoming News Exchange
BUFFALO — Uranium Energy Corp. has announced that it will resume operations at its mine and processing plant in southern Johnson County in August.
The company and its board have been waiting for a consistent uranium market to commit to production, though it’s been preparing for operations to start since at least October, the vice president for Wyoming operations, Donna Wichers, previously told the Bulletin. That includes some hiring, drilling and casing new wells.
Wichers said in October that a stable price of more than $60 per pound for three to four months would be enough to make production a viable venture for the company. As of last week, uranium was $106 a pound.
“Uranium market fundamentals are the best the industry has witnessed, and various supply shocks have accelerated the bull market with recent prices eclipsing the $100 per pound level,” Amir Adnani, president and CEO of Texas-based Uranium Energy Corp., said in a statement.
“With this exciting backdrop, we are pleased to announce our production restart in Wyoming,” he said.
Christensen Ranch is a fully permitted in situ recovery operation with wellfields and a satellite processing plant in Johnson and Campbell counties. The Irigaray central processing plant is a hub for 11 projects in the Powder River and Great Divide basins.
These two facilities comprise the Willow Creek area, which Wichers said was last productive in 2018.
In preparation for a potential restart, the company in 2023 reinstalled equipment and reattached piping, completed various electrical testing and made repairs and upgrades to facilities at the Christensen Ranch in situ recovery site in southern Johnson County, according to a news release.
The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality is also reviewing an application to expand the company’s Irigaray central processing plant licensed capacity from 2.5 million to 4 million pounds of uranium annually.
The company recently signed an agreement with TerraPower to supply uranium for its planned nuclear power plant in Kemmerer, which is expected to begin operations within a decade.
Ahead of the anticipated August start date, the company said in a news release that it intends to hire new personnel from nearby communities,including Buffalo and Kaycee.
Wichers said the company currently has 21 employees locally and will hire 15 more ahead of production in August.
Once production is underway, Wichers said the company intends to have a workforce on site of at least 48 people. She anticipates there will be roughly 20 contractors on site as well.
According to a Wyoming State Geological Survey uranium resources report published this month, the Cowboy State has led the country in uranium mining for nearly three decades and has produced 238 million pounds of yellowcake since the first mines started operating in 1951.
Since the 1980s, domestic uranium production has been on a slow decline due to low prices driven by too much supply. The years 2020 and 2021 saw almost no uranium mining in Wyoming.
Climbing prices and various federal and state incentives, including the Department of Energy’s directive to establish a strategic uranium reserve stocked by five companies – including Uranium Energy Corp. – all of which are involved in Wyoming uranium projects, the state geological survey report said. The Wyoming Legislature in 2020 modified its severance tax rate on uranium as a production incentive. Through 2025, the tax rate depends on market spot prices, varying from 0% to 5%.
At the height of uranium production in the past decade, in 2014, a company that was eventually purchased by Uranium Energy Corp. paid $1 million to Johnson County in ad valorem taxes, according to previous Bulletin reporting.