US uranium concentrate production slumped 89% last year, to 174 000 lb of U3O8, according to information by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA).
This is a sharp decrease from the 4.89-million pounds a year that the US produced five years earlier.
The EIA report comes about a month after the Trump Administration outlined “bold” plans to arrest the decline of the uranium mining industry as part of efforts to grow the entire US nuclear energy fuel cycle.
The production of uranium concentrate is the first step in the nuclear fuel production process.
The US has identified two future defence needs for domestic uranium supply: Low-enriched uranium needed to produce tritium required for nuclear weapons in the 2040s, and highly-enriched uranium needed to fuel Navy nuclear reactors in the 2050s.
The EIA reports that six facilities produced uranium concentrate in 2019, five of which were in-situ leaching (ISL) plants in Nebraska and Wyoming (Crow Butte operation, Lost Creek project, Ross CPP, North Butte, and Smith Ranch-Highland operation) and one an underground mine.
At the end of the year, the Shootaring Canyon mill, in Utah, and Sweetwater uranium project, in Wyoming, were on standby with a total capacity of 3 750 t/d. The 2 000 t/d White Mesa mill, in Utah, was also not producing.
Further, at year-end, three uranium ISL plants with a combined capacity of 9.5-million pounds a year were operating, the EIA says. Six ISL plants were on standby and seven ISL plants were planned for four states, including New Mexico, South Dakota, Texas and Wyoming.
At a $30/lb forward cost, the industry’s reported uranium reserves were 31-million pounds of U3O8 and at up to $50/lb, estimated reserves were 206-million pounds. At up to $100/lb, reported estimated reserves were 389-million pounds U3O8.
These reserves, the EIA explains, are a fraction of likely total domestic uranium reserves as it did not include inferred resources that were not reported.