Plans mooted for uranium studies at US institutes

01 December 2008

The University of Wyoming's School of Energy Resources has launched a proposal to set up a new uranium research centre, while the Virginia Center for Coal and Energy Research at Virginia Tech is to be commissioned to conduct a study into the likely impact of uranium mining in the state.


Mark Northam, Director, School of Energy Resources at the University of Wyoming, has presented a proposal for the establishment of an inter-departmental research centre to develop improved technologies and processes for the uranium in-situ leach (ISL) extraction industry. The main focus of the research centre would be to work towards improved uranium recovery rates and groundwater management and restoration, a key consideration in the ISL technique which works by pumping an acidic or alkaline solution directly into sandstone-hosted uranium deposits to dissolve the uranium, which is then processed to extract the uranium. The centre would also support teaching in undergraduate degree programmes, contributing to the education of the next generation of uranium and nuclear industry engineers and scientists. Research in the areas of field design, fluid management, extraction process improvement, and sensor development could also help to reduce the overall cost of uranium recovery, according to the proposal.


Wyoming is home to the Smith Ranch-Highland ISL project, which produced 2.0 million pounds U3O8 in 2007, nearly half of the USA's total uranium production. A new ISL facility at Moore Ranch is due to start up in 2010, and the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) expects to receive at least 15 applications for new facilities, including in-situ operations and conventional mills, over the next three years.


Virginia study to go ahead


Meanwhile, Virginia's Coal and Energy Commission has unanimously approved a motion to direct the Virginia Center for Coal and Energy Research at Virginia Tech university to conduct a wide-ranging study on the impact of uranium mining in the state, working in conjunction with independent scientific or academic institutions such as the National Academy of Sciences.


The state of Virginia is home to the extensive Coles Hill uranium deposits in Pittsylvania County but has a moratorium on uranium mining. Earlier this year, its senate voted to allow a two-year study into the safety of uranium mining, which some commentators suggested might herald a reconsideration of the moratorium.


The moratorium does not extend to exploration and Virginia Uranium Inc, would-be miner of Coles Hill, began an exploratory drilling program in December 2007. According to reports on Virginia Uranium's web site, an NI 43-101 compliant technical report on the Coles Hill uranium property completed earlier this year estimates the combined resources at the South and North Coles Hill deposits as 119.0 million pounds U3O8 at 0.025% U3O8, or 27.56 million pounds U3O8 at 0.150%, both up from 1982 estimates, with the potential for further resource expansion. The deposit is near the surface and would be amenable to open pit mining.

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