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12

Mining People Magazine

www.miningpeople.org

UraniumMining

hen nuclear power first came on the scene in the

mid-20

th

century, it was touted as a cheap, clean

energy of the future. Mining of uranium – the

element used to produce nuclear fuel – took off!

I

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,

Uranium

concentrates, in

the form of U308

or “Yellowcake”

is packaged into

special steel

drums prior to

shipping.

W