Uranium mining in the United States
drastically in the 1980s, but has revived since 2001 due to higher
prices. The average spot price
) increased from $7.92 per
in 2001 to $39.48 per pound in
production of uranium-bearing ore in the
States began in 1898 with the mining
of carnotite-bearing sandstones of the Colorado Plateau in Colorado and Utah, for their
The late 1940s and early 1950s saw a boom in uranium mining
in the western US, spurred by
the fortunes made by prospectors such as Charlie Steen
. The United States was the
world's leading producer of uranium from 1953 until 1980, when
annual US production peaked at 16,810 tonnes
. Until the early 1980s, there were active
uranium mines in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, South
Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.
Price declines in the late 1970s and early 1980s forced the closure
of numerous mines. Most uranium ore
in the United States comes from deposits in sandstone, which tend
to be of lower grade than those of Australia and Canada.
the lower grade, many uranium deposits in the United States became uneconomic when the price of uranium
declined sharply in the late 1970s.
By 2001, there were only
three operating uranium mines (all in-situ leaching
operations) in the United
States. Annual production reached a low of 779 tonnes of uranium
oxide in 2003, but then more than doubled in three years to 1672
tonnes in 2006, from 10 mines.
The U.S. DOE
's Energy Information
reported that 90% of U.S. uranium production in
2006 came from in-situ
Uranium is used primarily for nuclear
. In 2001 the United States had 104 operating nuclear power plants generating 20% of
the nation's electrical power supply. Although the United
States had the most nuclear power plants of any country, it
generated a much lower percentage of electricity from nuclear power
than did France (76% from
nuclear) or Japan (34% from
nuclear). In 2001 the United States mined only 5% of the uranium
consumed by its nuclear power plants. The remainder was
imported, principally from Russia (50%),
Canada, and Australia.
uranium production has declined to low levels, the United States has the fourth-largest uranium resource in the world,
behind Australia, Canada, and
United States uranium reserves are strongly
dependent on price. At $30 per pound U3
reserves are estimated to be 265 million pounds; however, at a
price of $50 per pound, reserves are an estimated 890 million
pounds. Rising uranium prices since 2001 have
increased interest in uranium mining in Arizona, Colorado, Texas and Utah. The states with the largest known
uranium ore reserves (not counting byproduct uranium from
phosphate) are (in order) Wyoming, New Mexico, and
in Alabama is found in the Coosa Block of the Northern Alabama
Metamorphic uranium occurrences have been
found in the Higgins Ferry Group in Coosa and Clay Counties.
Some exploration has been done,
but no economic deposits have been found to date.
Uranium was discovered at the Ross-Adams deposit in 1955 by an
airborne gamma radiation survey. The deposit is at Bokan Mountain
on Prince of Wales Island
The principal ore mineral was uranothorite
which occurred in veinlets in granite. Accessory minerals were
, with lesser amounts of fluorite
, and quartz
. The only
mining was done in 1957, when ore was removed from an open pit 25
to wide, long, and deep. There is a firm looking at the potential
of reopening the mine.
mining in Arizona has taken
place since 1918. Prior to the uranium boom of the late 1940s,
uranium in Arizona was a
byproduct of vanadium mining of the mineral
There are currently no
producing uranium mines in Arizona.
was discovered in 1954 in the Sierra Nevada of Kern
County, along the Kern River
about northeast of Bakersfield.
Two mines, the Kergon mine and the Miracle
mine, made small shipments in 1954 and 1955. Uranium occurs as
in shear zones in granodiorite
. Accessory minerals include
and the molybdenum
uranium identified in the USA was pitchblende from the Wood gold mine at Central
City, Colorado in 1871. Uranium mining in southwest Colorado goes back to 1898. The Uravan district of Colorado and Utah supplied about half
the world's radium from 1910 to 1922, and
vanadium and uranium
were byproducts. The only currently active uranium mine in
the state is the Sunday mine near Uravan, Colorado, owned by Denison
central-Florida phosphorite deposits are
considered to contain the largest known uranium resource (one million tonnes
of uranium oxide) in North America
(but note that resources are not the same as ore reserves).
Uranium has been produced as a byproduct of phosphate
mining and the production of phosphoric acid
fertilizer. The uranium is
contained in the phosphate minerals francolite
, and vivianite
, found in Miocene
sediments of the Bone Valley Formation
. The average
uranium content is 0.009%. However, because the recovery process
costs an estimated $22 to $54 per pound of
, more than the price of uranium from the
1980s through the early 2000s, uranium has not been recovered from
Florida phosphate since 1998. Because of the high price of uranium
since 2003, uranium recovery may be reactivated.
From 1955 to 1960, uranium was extracted from placer
black sand deposits derived from the Idaho Batholith
in southwest Idaho. The
deposits were mined for uranium, thorium
and rare earths
. Uranium and thorium
were in the monazite
grains; rare earths
were in columbite
. Production was 365 thousand pounds (165
tonnes) of U3
was mined at the Stanley district in Custer
County, Idaho from 1957 to 1962.
Deposits occur as veins
in granite of the Cretaceous
Batholith, and in strataform deposits in possibly Paleocene
arkosic conglomerates and sandstones
between the underlying Idaho Batholith and overlying Challis
Volcanic Group (Eocene
). The USGS has
estimated production to be less than 170 thousand pounds (78
tonnes) of U3
uranium mine in Nebraska has been the Crow Butte mine, operated by Cameco. The mine is five miles (8 km) southeast of
Crawford in Dawes County, western Nebraska.
The roll-front deposit in the Oligocene
Chadron formation was discovered in 1980 by Wyoming Fuel Co. Mining
began in 1991. The uranium is being mined by in-situ leaching
uranium deposit of the Apex mine (also called the Rundberg mine or
the Early Day mine) was discovered in 1953, three miles south of
Nevada, in Lander County.
The mine produced 45 tonnes of
from 1954 until the mine was closed in
1966. Uranium occurs as autunite
in fractured Cambrian quartzite
, adjacent to Jurassic quartz
McDermitt Caldera in Humboldt
County was the site of intense uranium exploration in the
Western Uranium Corporation is currently
drilling exploratory boreholes in the area.
exploration project in northern New Jersey was halted in 1980 when the local government passed
an ordinance preventing uranium mining.
New Mexico was a significant uranium producer since the
discovery of uranium by Navajo
sheepherder Paddy Martinez in
1950. Uranium in New Mexico is almost all in the
Grants mineral belt, along the south margin of the San Juan Basin in McKinley and Cibola counties, in the northwest part of the
No mining has been done since 2002, even though the
state has second-largest known uranium ore reserves in the
lignite coal in southwest North Dakota contains economic quantities of uranium.
to 1967 Union Carbide operated a mill
near Belfield in Stark County to burn uraniferous lignite and extract uranium
from the ash.
The plant produced about 150 tonnes of
before shutting down.
amount of uranium ore was mined in the mid-1950s from a surface
exposure at Cement in Caddo County.
The uranium occurred as carnotite and
tyuyamunite in fracture fillings in the Rush Springs Sandstone
Cement anticline, where the sandstone is bleached. The mined area
was long, 3 to wide, and extended 3 to below ground surface.
was discovered in Oregon in 1955,
near Lakeview in Lake County.
The White King mine and the Lucky Lass mine
shipped uranium from 1955 until 1965. At the White King mine,
uranium was mined by both underground and open-pit methods from a
volcanic rocks, associated with
. At the Lucky Lass mine, the uranium
without the associated minerals was mined from an open pit.
amount of uranium was mined in 1960 from a deposit at Bear Creek
Butte in Crook
The uranium was present as autunite
at the contact between a rhyolite dike and
tuffs of the Oligocene
-Miocene John Day
uranium mineral autunite was reported in
1874 near the town of Mauch Chunk (present-day Jim
Thorpe) in Carbon County, eastern Pennsylvania.
A small amount of test mining was done in
1953 at the Mount Pisgah deposit near Jim Thorpe. The uranium at
the Mount Pisgah deposit is primarily in an unidentified black
mineral in pods and rolls in the basal conglomerate of the Mauch Chunk Formation
). Also present are the secondary
uranium and uranium-vanadium
, and betauranophane
was discovered near Edgemont, South Dakota in 1951, quickly followed by mining.
uranium occurs in Cretaceous sandstones
of the Inyan Kara group, where it outcrops along the southern edge
of the Black
Hills in Fall River County, South
Minerals in unoxidized sandstone are
; minerals in oxidized zones include
airborne gamma radiation survey flown by the US Atomic Energy
Commission in 1954 discovered high radiation readings over the Cave
Hills area in Harding County, in the northwest corner of the state. High winds blew the reconnaissance flight off
their planned survey route over the Slim Buttes twenty miles
southeast of the North Cave Hills.
Claims were immediately
staked over uranium-bearing lignite
the area. The lignite
probably starting that same year, and continuing until the mines
closed in 1964.
No uranium is currently mined in South Dakota.
January 2007 Powertech Uranium Corporation received a state
permit to drill boreholes to evaluate their Dewey-Burdock project,
in Custer and Fall River counties northwest of Edgemont. Previous work at the property in the
early 1980s defined a resource of 10 million pounds (4500 tonnes)
of uranium, of which 5 million pounds (2300 tonnes) were estimated
recoverable by conventional underground mining. Powertech hopes to bring the property
into production as an in-situ
leaching mine in 2009.
A campaign has been underway to halt any effort to mine uranium in
the Black Hills because of its effect on Native American
populations, as well as the
effects of mining on the water table
. Indigenous leaders and
activists began organizing
around this issue in the 1970s and there are still efforts underway
to prevent mining on native lands.
uranium district of south Texas was
discovered by accident in 1954 by an airborne gamma radiation survey looking for petroleum
The coastal plain had previously been regarded as
highly unfavorable for uranium deposits. The uranium occurs in
roll-front type deposits in sandstones of Eocene
age. The deposits are distributed along about
of coastal plain, from Panna Maria in the north, south into Mexico.
Uranium production began in 1958, from open-pit and in situ leach
Uranium production stopped in 1999, but restarted in 2004.
three mines were active: Kingsville Dome in Kleberg
County, the Vasquez mine in Duval
County, and the Alta Mesa mine in Brooks
2007 production was 1.34 million pounds
(607 tonnes) of U3
Energy Metals Corp. is applying for permits to begin mining the La
Palangana deposit in Duval County; the company hopes to begin
mining in 2008.
uranium-vanadium ore in southeast Utah goes back to
the late 1800s. All of Utah’s numerous
uranium mines closed prior to 2000, because of low prices.
2006, Denison Mines reopened the
Pandora mine in the La Sal mining district of southeastern Utah.
Uranium Corp. announced in July 1982 that it had discovered 110
million pounds of uranium in the Swanson/Coles Hill deposit, on
land that it had leased near Chatham in Pittsylvania County.
In response, the state of Virginia imposed
a moratorium on uranium mining in the state.
Marline dropped its remaining mineral
leases and closed its local exploration office in 1990.
The deposits occur as breccia-fill and
veins in gneiss
bordering the Triassic Danville
. Ore minerals are coffinite, uraninite, and
In October 2007, Walter Coles, who owns the land over the Coles
Hill deposit, announced that he and some other landowners had
formed Virginia Uranium Inc. to mine the deposit themselves, if it
can be done safely.
In November 2007, the state issued an
exploration permit to Virginia Uranium, to allow drilling test
holes into the deposit. Drilling began in mid-December.
The state-imposed moratorium on uranium mining is still in effect.
A bill proposed in the state General Assembly in January 2008 would
have created a Virginia Uranium Mining Commission to determine if
uranium mining could be done in a manner protective of human health
and the environment, and to recommend regulatory controls.
However, opponents of uranium mining
succeeded in stopping the bill on March 3, 2008, when a committee
to the House of Delegates delayed consideration of the bill until
In November 2008, the Virginia Commission on Coal and Energy voted
unanimously to create a subcommittee to study the issue of uranium
mining. In May 2009 the subcommittee approved a study of potential
uranium mining and its safety and pollution issues. The study is
expected to take about 18 months to complete.
Uranium was discovered at the Midnite
deposit on the Spokane Indian Reservation, Stevens County,
Washington in 1954. The deposit was mined from an open pit
1956-1962 and 1969-1982. Production through 1975 was 8 million
pounds of U3
. The uranium is contained in
autunite, uraninite, and coffinite, with gangue minerals pyrite and
marcasite. The ore occurs as disseminations, replacements, and
stockworks in Precambrian metamorphic rocks of the Togo formation,
in a roof pendant in Cretaceous porphyritic quartz monzonite.
Western Nuclear discovered the Spokane Mountain uranium deposit in
1975, two miles (3 km) northeast of the Midnite Mine
, and in a similar geologic
Other Washington state uranium mines include the Sherwood mine,
located a few miles south of the Midnite mine, and the Daybreak
mine, located about four miles west-northwest of Mt. Spokane. The
Daybreak mine is recognized as the source of the finest
museum-quality specimens of autunite and meta-autunite yet
Wyoming once had
many operating uranium mines, and has the largest known uranium ore
reserves of any state in the U.S.
The Wyoming uranium mining
industry was hard-hit in the 1980s by the drop in the price of
uranium. The uranium-mining boom town of Jeffrey
City lost 95% of its population in three
years. By 2006, the only active uranium mine in
Wyoming was the Smith Ranch-Highland in-situ leaching
operation in the Powder River Basin, owned by a subsidiary of Cameco. The mine produced 907 tonnes of yellowcake (uranium concentrate) in 2006, making
it the leading uranium producer in the United States.
Health and environmental issues
The radiation hazards of uranium mining and milling were not
appreciated in the early years, resulting in workers exposed to
high levels of radiation. Inhalation of radon
gas caused sharp increases in lung cancers among underground
uranium miners employed in the 1940s and 1950s.
Uranium mining and milling has left a legacy of environmental
problems. Out of 50 present and former uranium milling sites in 12
states, 24 have been abandoned, and are the responsibility of the
US Department of Energy
Accidental releases from uranium mills include the Sequoyah Corporation Fuels
in Oklahoma and the Church Rock Uranium Mill
in New Mexico.
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