Reliable, affordable and clean energy is the basis of a healthy and prosperous world. This is why nuclear energy is so important. It provides electricity on a 24/7/365 basis. Tt is cost competitive with all other sources of electricity. And it is clean with zero air pollution and zero carbon emissions.
The U.S. is the leader in nuclear energy, where we produce 20% of all electricity – and 55% of all clean electricity – from nuclear technology. As recently as the 1980’s, the U.S. led the world in uranium mining. However, today the U.S. barely makes the top ten, with countries like Kazakhstan, Russia, Namibia, Canada, and even China producing more.
Energy Fuels is now leading the way toward the making U.S. uranium mining relevant again. We are currently the largest uranium miner in the U.S., and we intend to maintain this position well into the future. Through modern mining techniques and strict government regulations, we will make sure this clean energy resource is harvested more responsibly than in any other country in the World.
How did we get where we are today, and how did Energy Fuels become the leader in the U.S. uranium market? Here’s a brief history.
The Discovery of Uranium
German scientist Martin Heinrich first discovered uranium in 1789 while studying pitchblende, the name of a uranium mineral, which denoted its black color. Pitchblende, later renamed uraninite (due to the presence of uranium), was discovered as early as the 15th century in silver mines near the Czech/German border, but it had very little use at the time, except as an agent that turned ceramics and glass a yellow-green color. In 1898, French scientists Pierre and Marie Curie discovered radium in pitchblende, which produced as a byproduct of uranium’s radioactive decay.
Deposits in the U.S. were discovered in 1871, when pitchblende was found in a gold mine near Central City, Colorado. In the late-1800’s and early-1900’s, radium from pitchblende was mined in the western U.S. primarily for experimental treatments of cancerous tumors in a very early form of radiation therapy. Radium was one of the most expensive commodities in history, peaking at more than $3 million per ounce in 1919. In fact, Marie Curie visited western Colorado’s to obtain a small amount of radium for her studies. However, because there was little use for it, the uranium from these mines was discarded.
Later in the early- to mid-1900’s, carnotite, a uranium-vanadium mineral found in Colorado and Utah, was mined for its vanadium content. Vanadium is used to harden steel. The first large-scale use of vanadium was in the Ford Model T, and in tanks and battleships during WWI. Again, the uranium from these mines was discarded.
In the 1940’s, we found another use for uranium: weapons. “Natural uranium”, which is what we mine, is primarily comprised of two isotopes: ~99.3% U-235 and ~0.7% U-238. By concentrating, or “enriching,” the U-235 isotope from 0.7% to very high levels (over 95%), uranium creates an explosive nuclear reaction. Following WWII, we began developing peaceful uses of uranium, mainly the production of clean electricity. By enriching U-235 to much lower levels (~3% - 5%), it creates a self-sustaining nuclear reaction that simply releases heat that can be used to produce electricity in a nuclear reactor.
The first commercial nuclear power plant in the U.S. was built in Pennsylvania, reaching full operation by 1957. Nuclear energy is also used to power nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers, with the first model becoming operational in 1958. Today, the U.S. boasts 96 commercially operating nuclear power units, followed by 58 in France, 47 in China, and 36 in Russia. Today, there are around 450 nuclear reactors operating across the globe, providing about 11% of the world’s electricity.
Since the 1950’s, major uranium deposits have been found – and mined – all over the U.S., primarily in the states of Wyoming, Texas, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado. The U.S. was a leader in uranium mining until the 1980’s, which also made us a leader in the peaceful use of nuclear energy and non-proliferation. Since that time however, while we continue to be a leader in the production of nuclear energy, we have significantly reduced uranium mining and nuclear fuel production.
Today, the U.S. is hugely dependent on imports of uranium and nuclear fuel. Until recently, most of these imports came from allies, like Canada and Australia. However, as allied production has dropped in recent years, the U.S. is seeing increases of uranium imports controlled by our geopolitical competitors, like Russia and China.
Current Day Production
While the U.S. enjoys abundant uranium resources – the U.S. Geological Survey estimates well over 1 billion pounds – the U.S. only produced about 1.5 million pounds of uranium in 2018, less than 3% of what our nuclear power plants require. In addition, the uranium used in our submarines and aircraft carriers, and for national defense, must be produced in the U.S. This dependence is why Energy Fuels has led recent efforts intended to increase the value of U.S. uranium mining.
Leading U.S. Uranium Stocks:
The following is a list of the main uranium stocks in the United States:
Energy Fuels proudly operates the only conventional uranium mill in the U.S., the White Mesa Mill in Utah, along with two in-situ recovery (ISR) facilities in Wyoming and Texas. We have been the leading uranium stock in the U.S. since 2016. Our facilities have produced about 16.1 million pounds of uranium since 2006. Check out our timeline to see how we got to where we are today.
Cameco was the leading U.S. uranium stock until 2016, with two ISR facilities in Wyoming and Nebraska. These were shut down in 2016 but could be brought back online with higher prices. Cameco’s projects have produced about 25 million pounds of uranium since 2006.
Ur-Energy is another key uranium stock in the U.S. that has successfully ramped up its Lost Creek ISR facility in Wyoming. Lost Creek has produced about 2.7 million pounds of uranium since startup in 2013.
Peninsula Energy and Uranium Energy Corp. are additional U.S. uranium stocks that have licensed and developed ISR uranium facilities in Wyoming and Texas. Each of these companies have produced about 0.3 million pounds of uranium over the past several years.
Azarga Uranium, Anfield Resources and Laramide Resources also have important conventional and ISR uranium and vanadium projects in the U.S. that can come online in improved uranium markets.