Mar 6, 2014 - By Eric Blom, Staff WriterThe Bureau of Land Management gave final approval Feb. 13 for a uranium mine in Fremont County. The record of decision from the federal agency made slight modifications to the plan laid out in the final environmental impact statement.
Cameco Resources controls the uranium deposits and has sought a permit to develop them since 2010. If built, the project would be the first uranium mine to operate in Fremont County in several decades.
Cameco does not have plans to immediately begin construction on the site, however, company spokesman Ken Vaughn said.
"Frankly the next steps are going to be determined by the uranium market," he said.
The price of uranium is low, he said, but Vaughn is optimistic for the future.
"At present the prices are depressed, and there's a lot of uncertainty short term," Vaughn said. "Long term, Cameco sees a great future for uranium power. There's a lot of (nuclear) generators being built."
The facility would cover 1,300 acres in the Gas Hills area east of Riverton.
Energy Fuels, which merged with Strathmore Minerals in August, is developing a second uranium mine in the Gas Hills and one near Sheep Mountain, about eight miles south of Jeffrey City.
Cameco's mine includes five in-situ recovery units. An in-situ mine pumps water underground through mineral-bearing sand, dissolving the mineral. Then the mine pumps that water back to the surface and where the minerals are removed from the water
BLM anticipates the mine to operate for about 25 years and to employ nearly 100 people.
The federal agency approved the major elements of the project as Cameco proposed it but plans to require additional reporting and reclamation planning. The company also would have to follow a construction constraint of starting to reclaim part of the first mine unit before beginning to build the third.
"(I)t allows full recovery of the uranium minerals as required by federal regulations while reducing the potential for undue or unnecessary degradation of public lands," the decision document stated, referring to the regulations on the mine the BLM established.
Environmental impact statements still are being drafted for those projects.
Many industry watchers expect the end of a 20-year program to convert Russian nuclear warheads to power-plant fuel to bring higher prices for uranium. The so-called Megatons to Megawatts agreement decommissioned 20,000 weapons over its lifespan but came to an end in December.
Companies like Cameco diluted the high-grade nuclear fuel, and until recently provided about 25 percent of the world supply of uranium, Vaughn said.
So far, the program's end has not increased the commodity's price, he said.
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