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Front Page » March 22, 2005 » Local News » Uranium Mining Claims on the Rise
Published 3,412 days ago

Uranium Mining Claims on the Rise


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By PHIL FAUVER
Guest Writer

The Temple Mountain area was the site of uranium mining activity during the 50s.

The Emery County Recorders office has recently seen an increase in the number of mining claims filed by individuals and corporations. Over 700 Uranium mining claims were filed in the month of February. Most of these mining claims were filed on Bureau of Land Management property near Green River.

Why this renewed interest in Uranium in Emery County? Could it be because uranium prices have risen from a low of $7.10 per pound in late 2000 to over $21.75 per pound today, a recent 20 year-high.

To file a mining claim in Emery County the fee is $10. However if the mining claim is on BLM property, the fee for filing a claim is $165 in addition to the fee charged by Emery County.

When a possible mining claim is selected by a prospector he has to identify the location with stakes or rock monuments to identify the extent of the claim. Emery County and the BLM both require a certain amount of work to be performed or improvements on the claim by the claimant each year in order to keep the claim active. Failure to improve on the claim can result in a loss of the claim.

A study of the history of uranium mining in Eastern Utah tells us that the eastern and southeastern regions near the river basins of the Green River, the Grand River and the Colorado River in Utah, have in the past contained deposits of uranium. Past exploration of the San Rafael found uranium deposits about 15 miles southwest of the Green River. In 19034, uranium ore was found in Wayne County, southeast of the San Rafael Swell. Other areas where uranium deposits were found are west of the LaSal Mountains, south of Richardson, at Mill Creek, north of Moab, at Cold Creek, and at Temple Mountain.

Uranium, a radioactive element, was first mined in the United States by Dr. Richard Pierce who shipped 200 pounds of pitchblende (a black hard tar like substance that is found in vertical seams of some rock formations ) to London from the Central City mining district near Denver, Colo. The ore was researched for fabrication of steel alloys, chemical experimentation and as pigments for dyes, inks and stained glass.

In 1889, Pierre and Marie Curie and G. Bemont isolated radium from pitchblende. They also discovered vanadium, uranium, and radium were found in carnotite. Carnotite is a mineral containing colorful red and yellow ores used by early Navajo and Ute Indians on the Colorado plateau as body paint.

The discovery of these minerals caused a small prospecting boom in southeastern Utah prior to World War I. In Utah the earliest mining of uranium ore began in the 1870s and 1880s.

Uranium the "wonder mineral" became a giant in the 1950s, and 1960s. Throughout the west people from all walks of life were buying Geiger counters and roaming the countryside trying to detect the radioactive signal from uranium and other radioactive minerals.

In 1952, Charles Augustus Steen, an unemployed oil geologist from Texas proved there was significant uranium ore on the Colorado Plateau. What was described as Steen's Folly resulted in the nation's first large uranium strike in the Big Indian Wash of Lisbon Valley southeast of Moab.

By 1955, approximately 800 mines were producing high-grade ore on the Colorado Plateau. Utah produced about 9 million tons of ore valued at $25 million by the end of 1962. But then the uranium industry came to a standstill when the Atomic Energy Commission announced it had sufficient reserves of uranium.

Nuclear power plants came on line in the 1970s causing a short lived uranium boom. But foreign competition, federal regulations and the fear of the use of nuclear power plants soon put an end to domestic uranium mining.

Salt Lake City was once known as the Wall Street of uranium stocks during the uranium excitement of the1950s and 1960s. Taken from the History of Uranium in Utah, Utah History Encyclopedia.

What could be triggering this new interest in uranium? Does the world need more uranium for electricity generating power plants? What is it that is driving the price of uranium up?

What are the advantages and disadvantages of the use of uranium and why has the demand for it increased?

Using uranium in commercial nuclear power generation involves containing and controlling the fission reactions safely so that the heat produced can be used to make steam which in turn generates electricity. This is much like coal, gas or oil being used to heat water to form steam to turn the turbines and generate electricity.

There are several possible reasons for the increase in uranium prices. Countries around the world such as the UK, France, Russia, Canada, Sweden, and Japan to name a few, have turned to nuclear power to provide electricity and a better standard of living for their people and and have been doing so for 30-40 years.

The above countries and developing countries are building new nuclear power plants to provide electricity and are abandoning the use of fossil fuels to generate electricity.

The Koyoto Agreement on global warming is another reason for the increased price of uranium. The demand to reduce the use of fossil fuels (such as coal, gas and oil) has forced developing countries to look to nuclear power to reduce so called green house gases.

At the end of 2002, there were 440 nuclear power reactors operating in 31 countries, with 30 power reactors under construction in 10 countries. Nuclear power plants are built at a higher construction cost when compared to a coal or gas fired power plant, however some believe the nuclear power plant will last years longer and produce electricity at a lower cost with fewer environmental problems.

Some countries like France have now become exporters of electricity from their nuclear power plants to neighboring countries.

Recent upgrading of existing nuclear power plants has resulted in an increased capacity to produce electricity from nuclear power. Several power reactors in the USA, Belgium, Sweden, Spain, Switzerland and Germany, for example, have had their generating capacity increased through upgrading to more efficient use of uranium and plutonium. New reactor start-ups are expected to exceed the decommissioning of old reactors for several years, though most of the new reactors will be in the Asian region.

There is now widespread agreement in some quarters that we need resource strategies which will minimize CO2 and the build up of other gases in the atmosphere, with respect to electricity generation, the increased use of uranium as a fuel is one obvious strategy, utilizing newer proven technology. Continued efficiency in energy conservation is unlikely to be as great in the next decade as it was in the mid 1970s, because most of the easy and cost-effective steps have already been taken.

Nuclear power plants do not put carbon dioxide and other gases into the atmosphere, therefore they are looked upon as a possible way of cleaning up the environment. However the storage or disposal of spent nuclear fuel still concerns a large portion of the US population. Research is starting to provide answers about how to reuse the spent nuclear fuel or waste by products from nuclear power plants. Using plutonium in a breeder reactor has been successful in reducing the nuclear waste products from older nuclear power plants.

Widespread use of the fast breeder reactors could increase the utilization of uranium 60 times or more. This type of reactor can be started up on plutonium derived from conventional reactors and operated in closed circuit with its reprocessing plant. Such a reactor, supplied with natural uranium for its "fertile blanket," very quickly reaches the stage where each ton of uranium ore yields 60 times more energy than in a conventional reactor.

The US has fewer nuclear power plants in service today due to age and the cost of upgrading existing nuclear plants. The US has nearly stopped building nuclear power plants due to protestors and NRC and EPA regulations caused from the fear of a nuclear melt down like the Chernobyl disaster in Russia, and fears about the Three Mile Island power plant that had its problem and was able to contain the melt down within the walls of the plant. The newer nuclear power plants being built have incorporated technologies that make them much safer than those of a generation ago.

Is mining and milling of uranium ore hazardous?

Uranium minerals are always associated with other elements such as radium and radon in radioactive decay. Therefore, although uranium itself is barely radioactive, the ore which is mined must be considered as potentially hazardous, especially if it happens to be high-grade uranium ore. The radiation hazards involved however are virtually all due to the associated elements and are similar to those in many mineral sands operations. Therefore, precautions need to be taken when mining or milling uranium ore.

Uranium is 1.7 times more dense than lead, and is composed of atoms which have in their nucleus 92 protons (positively-charged) and about 140 neutrons (uncharged). One of the types of uranium atoms, or one of the uranium "isotopes" as they are called, has 143 neutrons. This uranium-235 (U-235) isotope is interesting, because when its nucleus is hit by a slow neutron (also known as a "thermal" neutron) the atom can split in two and release a lot of energy as heat. This reaction of producing heat is known as fission.

The other main isotope of natural uranium, U-238 is not itself fissile (heat producing) in conventional reactors but each atom can capture a neutron, indirectly to become fissile plutonium-239. It is thus "fertile." Pu-239 behaves similarly to U-235 except that its neutron yield is slightly greater than that of U-235. About one third of the energy from a commercial nuclear reactor comes from fission of the plutonium produced in the reactor.

It has been estimated that every 22 tons of uranium used saves about one million tons of carbon dioxide from being emitted into the atmosphere when compared to coal.

Some of the largest uranium concentrations in the United States, according to surface surveys, are found in Southwest Utah, Southwest Nevada, Southern Arizona and New Mexico. Ohio and Pennsylvania also have deposits of uranium. This is based upon the data from the National Uranium Resource Evaluation program conducted by the US Department of Energy in the 1970s.

There are enough known resources of uranium in the world to last for half a century. The calculation was made, by only considering the lower cost or quality category, and based on uranium being used in the older type of conventional reactors. This represents a higher level of assured resources than is normal for most minerals. Further exploration and higher prices will certainly, on the basis of present geological knowledge, yield further resources as the present ores are being used up. A doubling of the price from present levels could be expected to create about a tenfold increase in measured resources. Portions of this article were taken from the publication: Nuclear Electricity, Seventh Edition, by Ian Hore-Lacy, Published by Uranium Information Centre ltd. and from Allan Feldman, Alberta Star's in-house Investor Relations and Corporate Communications publication.


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