Mining People Magazinewww.miningpeople.org
hen nuclear power first came on the scene in the
century, it was touted as a cheap, clean
energy of the future. Mining of uranium – the
element used to produce nuclear fuel – took off!
n the decades since, the issue has proven more complicated
as three nuclear power plant accidents, environmental
controversy, and ballooning construction costs have impacted
public perception of the industry; right now, most North
American uranium mines are idle, and most of the demand is
met with imports.
It’s been a long road with a lot of ups and downs, but now the
uranium industry in North America is asking for help. They say
they’re hanging by a thread – and that without US government
intervention, the continent is at risk of permanently losing the
base of knowledge, people, and expertise that make production
and processing of uranium possible.
Production of uranium concentrates, in the form of U308
or “Yellowcake” as it is commonly referred to in the industry,
from ore which is mined by open pit or underground methods
and processed to recover uranium, employs technology and
methods common to the mining industry.
Throughout the 60+ year history of uranium
mining in the US, the majority of uranium
ore mined has been via conventional
open pit or underground methods. The
uranium “boom” period of the late 1970s
and early 1980s witnessed considerable
growth of the uranium mining
industry in the United States,
including development of large
open pit, underground and in-situ
recovery operations. Many mining
and milling production centers
remained in operation through
the middle of the 1980s, however,
continuing price erosion ultimately
led to closure of many facilities.
Today there are no open pit uranium
mining operations active in the US.
Several underground mines have
been reactivated in recent years,
the form of U308
is packaged into
drums prior to