Archive for the ‘Uranium’ Category
Tuesday, March 8th, 2011
March 8, 2011
Once upon a time, the United States was the world’s leading miner of uranium. Since 1980, however, production has been in decline. Today the U.S. produces less than 10 percent of the uranium fuel consumed in our 104 nuclear reactors. That trend may be reversing, however, as the Virginia Legislature considers lifting a 29-year ban on uranium mining.
Uranium mining usually conjures up visions of Arizona, Colorado, Utah and the Far West. Actually, the largest uranium deposit in the country is the 50,000-metric-ton Swanson/Coles Hill deposit discovered in 1982 in Pittsylvania County, Virginia. The Three Mile Island accident prompted the Virginia Legislature to lock up the deposit, however, and hit has never been developed. This made sense with uranium prices in slow decline during the 1980s and 1990s. But the revival of interest in nuclear – plus the pending expiration of the “Swords-to-Plowshares” effort with Russia in 2013 – has revived interest.
The state allowed exploratory drilling at Swanson/Coles in 2007 and in 2008 an effort was made in the legislature to lift the ban. The bill passed the Democratic-controlled Senate 36-4 and seemed headed for easy passage in the Republican House of Delegates. But anti-nuclear forces mobilized and the bill never made it out of committee. In 2009 the Legislature punted and elected to send the matter to the National Academy of Sciences to do a study on whether the uranium can be mined safely. The National Academy report is due at the end of this year. In a conference call reported by WHSV Online, Walter Coles, Jr., executive vice-president of Virginia Uranium Inc., told investors that the political climate in Virginia has become “fairly pro-nuclear.”
Altogether, the U.S. still has the fourth largest deposits of uranium in the world, behind Australia, Canada and Kazakhstan. In 1984, Australia embargoed all future exports of uranium except for operations at three existing mines. The U.S. currently obtains 50 percent of imported fuel from recycled Soviet weapons and the remaining 45 percent from Canada and Australia.
Read more about it at WHSV Online
Tuesday, December 28th, 2010
December 28, 2010
Throughout the Nuclear Revival, the constant chorus from critics has been, "It’s too expensive. Where will the money come from? Wall Street will never invest."
The answer may well be, "The money will come from other countries, whose sovereign wealth funds are investing in nuclear all over the world." After all, if Korea and Japan can build reactors in the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, why can’t they build them in the United States?
So it isn’t surprising to find this development emerging in the construction of uranium milling in the U.S. Energy Fuels, Ltd., whose efforts to build a uranium mill in Colorado were featured on yesterday’s Nuclear Townhall, says that it will need Asian investment in order to construct the project.
The federal governments’ and utilities’ failure to encourage nuclear energy "just about requires us to look overseas (for funding)"’ Gary Steele, Energy Fuels’ vice president for investor relations, told The Denver Post. "You have to go where the market is. Just pick an Asian country."Energy Fuels has hired a Hong Kong agent to solicit bankers in China and elsewhere.
"The product we provide is essentially totally fungible and can be used at any nuclear facility in the world," said chief executive Steve Antony. "We’d like to see it used here in the United States."
The integration of America’s Nuclear Revival into the Renaissance that is taking place in the rest of the world is sure to bring new cries of opposition from nuclear opponents. "Why can’t we do it ourselves? We’re sacrificing our independence! What about our national sovereignty?"
According to an industry source: "If they want an answer, they need only look at the bureaucratic and regulatory morass that it is making it exceeding difficult for anyone to build anything new in the U.S particularly in an economic downturn and in the face of low natural gas prices."
Read more at UPI
Monday, December 27th, 2010
December 27, 2010
As nuclear facilities revive around the country, a typical pattern of conflict will emerge – local working-class people eager for economic development versus comfortable local aristocracies and jet-setters who shun any connection with industry and conjure up all kinds of environmental concerns.
This scenario is being played out in southern Colorado, where plans to build a uranium mill to process new output from reviving mines in the region has run up against opposition from Telluride, a ski town an hour’s drive away with a large population of second homes. “People from Telluride don’t have any business around here,” Michelle Mathews, a 31-year-old school janitor who lives near the mill site tells The New York Times. “Not everyone wants to drive to Telluride to clean hotel rooms.”
The poster boy for the opposition is Craig Pirazzi, who is described as a carpenter but is photographed as if posing for a Ralph Lauren ad. Pirazzi belongs to a group called the Paradise Valley Sustainability Association that thinks nuclear isn’t "sustainable." He recently moved to the mill region from Telluride. A study by the Sheep Mountain Alliance, another group of which Mr. Pirazzi is a member, has warned that trucks bringing slag from the revived mines "would travel on narrow country roads, stirring up dust that the study said could end up in the snowpack and water supply all over the region."
“They’re saying not in my backyard — now how big is their backyard?” complains George Glasier, a local rancher who founded Energy Fuels, the company that is trying to build the mill.
“In one aspect we’re being nimby’s by saying we will be affected by the negative aspects of this,” responds Mr. Pirazzi. “But that is a valid concern — our health, our air, our water is going to be affected by it, and we have every right to protect our property values and our health.”
The conflict will be repeated over and over again in all manner of industrial development. In affluent regions such as New York and California, the opposition has essentially won out and no new projects are likely. In states like Texas, brimming with newcomers eager for work, the developers hold sway. States such as Colorado are on the border – populated both by people eager for development but also the comfortably affluent looking to shut it all down. It is along these lines that the battle to revive nuclear will be fought.
Read more at the New York Times
Tuesday, November 16th, 2010
Uranium prices are once again approaching $60 a pound as China begins to soak up supplies to meet its plans for nuclear expansion.
Prices finished the second quarter in the $40 range but have since climbed by almost 50 percent. They are still far off their 2007 of $136 per pound but that represented a bubble created by the world’s reviving interest in nuclear energy. Since then dozens of mining operations stepped up production or reopened to meet rising demand. The present price rise probably represents a more long-term trend.
“China has `piled up’ contracts to import uranium,” reports Bloomberg New in a conference call with John Borshoff, CEO of Paladin, an Australian mining company with interests in Africa. Borshoff told Bloomberg, “Although they have sucked a chunk out of new production, they are nowhere near their target of acquiring in the vicinity of 45 to 50 million pounds per annum by 2020.”
Paladin’s mines in Malawi and Namibia have increased production 83 percent over last year in the last three months. The Perth- based company is aiming to double its uranium oxide output to almost 14 million pounds by 2016 from a projected 7 million pounds in the year ending June 30, 2011. Nearly all this production is going to China. Paladin has signed a preliminary agreement with China’s second- biggest builder of nuclear power plants and now hopes to enter a similar agreement with the Guangdong Nuclear Power Group Co. sometime next year.
Despite this price trend, the overall costs of nuclear electricity are not likely to rise significantly. Fuel costs are only about 25 percent for nuclear, as opposed to 95 percent for natural gas. Even then, the price of raw uranium constitutes only about one-third of the fuel so the impact only affects 8 percent of the overall costs of nuclear. Thus, the price trend only reveals one of nuclear’s many advantages – its costs are much less volatile than fossil fuels in the long run.
Read more at Bloomberg News
Thursday, October 7th, 2010
TV reporters aren’t always famous for being fully informed, but at least they can get the news out there. â€¨ â€¨Discovery Channel journalist Eric Bland announces a “new kind of uranium” – actually a uranium compound – that could lead to pint-sized nuclear reactors and even improve the efficiency of the gasoline engine. Keying off a recent paper in Nature Chemistry, Bland reports on the properties of uranium nitrides being investigated by scientists at Los Alamos.
â€¨Uranium nitrides are a family of compounds that have actually been explored for years [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uranium_nitride]. Their main advantage is greater thermal conductivity than uranium oxide, which could make nuclear reactors more efficient. Hyperion, the New Mexico company that is marketing a small modular reactor, is already using uranium nitrides as fuel.
â€¨Bland also explores uranium nitrides’ ability to act as a catalyst in breaking carbon bonds. “If the two atoms [carbon and hydrogen] could be split apart without losing all that energy, gasoline could be used much more effectively not only to fuel a car, but also to improve a whole variety of petroleum-related products, from plastics to drugs.”â€¨
As the comments to this story indicate, uranium nitrides are already well known in the scientific community. But hey, give credit where credit is due. At least Bland didn’t discuss the possibility that adding uranium nitrides to your gas tank would cause a nuclear explosion in your car.
Read more at the Discovery Channel
Tuesday, October 5th, 2010
After eight years of consideration, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has issued an operating license to Uranium One’s 11-square-mile Moore Ranch site in Wyoming. It is the first new license issued since 1998.
Moore Ranch will employ in situ leaching (ISL), a technology that involves large very little excavation and produces no mine tailings or other wastes. Instead the uranium is leached out of the ground by native groundwater, fortified by complexing agents and oxidants. The pregnant solution is pumped to the surface, where the uranium is recovered. In its eight-year review, the NRC performed exhaustive reviews of the environmental and safety aspects of the operation. Uranium One will process the resins at its nearby Willow Creek plant.
Uranium mining has been largely abandoned in this country since new nuclear construction ended after 1990. The market has been further depressed by the blending down of highly enriched uranium from former Soviet weapons stockpiles. The recycled bomb material now makes up half our reactor fuel – which has led to the aphorism that “one in every ten light bulbs in America is lit by a former Soviet weapon.” The weapons to plowshares gtreaty, originally signed in 1994, is due to expire in 2014, however, and a surge in domestic demand is anticipated. Uranium prices soared from $16 per pound to $135 per pound in 2007 in anticipation of growing demand, leading to an effort to reopen old mines and develop new ones. Prices have since settled down to around $40 per pound.
The Moore Ranch contains mineral resources totaling approximately 5.9 million pounds of U3O8 contained in 2.95 million tons of ore at an average grade of 0.10% and inferred resources of 89,000 pounds of U3O8 contained in 43,600 tons, at an average grade of 0.102%, certified by Canadian National Instrument 43-101, according to statistics compiled by World Nuclear News. Uranium One said it is working to develop other projects in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin.
Read more about it at World Nuclear News
Friday, August 13th, 2010
The nation’s uneven effort to close the nuclear fuel cycle was on display again this week as the U.S. Department of Energy’s plant for reprocessing weapons plutonium said it is having trouble lining up customers to buy its recycled fuel.
The $4.8 billion operation, scheduled to become operable in 2016, will take excess plutonium from the weapons program and blending it with depleted reactor uranium to create mixed oxide fuel (MOX), which can be burned in specially designed reactors.
France and Japan are doing the same thing and the first shipment of MOX, fabricated in Avignon, just arrived in Japan recently for loading into one of the half-dozen Japanese reactors redesigned to burn the blended fuel.
In the U.S., however, the failure to construct new reactors or convert any of them to MOX technology has created a potential dilemma. Environmental groups are jumping all over the program, of course –- although in this case they can’t oppose it outright since the weapons plutonium already exists in a much more vulnerable state.
Duke Energy, which expressed some early interest, has now said it will not participate in any MOX program. Southern Electric, which is trying to build Plant Vogtle, has also declined. The most likely customer, according to the well-researched story in The Augusta Herald, is the Tennessee Valley Authority, which agreed last February to test the MOX fuel in five of its reactors.
Read more at The Augusta Chronicle
Monday, July 12th, 2010
After three years in the doldrums, uranium prices may be about to revive as China begins stockpiling supplies for the 60 new reactors it is planning to build over the next decade.
China bought 5000 metric tons of uranium this year – almost twice as much as it consumes – and is likely to increase its demand even more this year, according to an analysis by MIT. After trading in the low $30 range for almost three years, spot prices have rebounded to $41. Some analysts are predicting they could climb as high as $55 before the end of this year.
That’s good news for both Cameco and Areva, the Western world’s two largest suppliers. Cameco, the Canadian mining company, has seen stock prices fall 60 percent in the past three years, largely due to uranium prices. Areva’s stock has declined 53 percent over the same period, but not all because of commodity operations. The French giant has had trouble keeping its production schedule at the Olkiluoto project in Finland and has experienced growing competition from Korea and other competitors in selling reactors around the world.
Uranium prices are expected to bounce back even more after 2014 when the Russian-American deal for old Soviet weapons’ stocks terminates. The U.S. now gets half its uranium supplies from this swords-to-ploughshares effort.
But the real source of growth will be new reactor construction. In the 1980s, when U.S. expansion was at its peak, a new reactor was being started every 17 days. According to World Nuclear News, by 2015 a new reactor will be started somewhere in the world every five days with China and India leading the pack.
Uranium prices peaked at $135 a pound in 2006 as the result of a speculative boom based on hopes for the Nuclear Revival. The run-up brought many old mines back into operation, however, and burst the speculative bubble. Price increase over the next year, however, would appear to be based on real demand.
Read more at Business Week