Company reveals plans for new US uranium plant

24 January 2023

Western Uranium & Vanadium has already acquired a site in Utah and begun work on designing and permitting the facility to process uranium, vanadium and cobalt. The new plant will process feed from Western's restarted Sunday Mine Complex.

Underground at Sunday, pictured in 2021 (Image: Western Uranium & Vanadium)

The announcement comes days after the company said mining operations will restart at Sunday in early February. The mine complex in Colorado was last actively mined during 2007-2009.

The new "state-of-the-art mineral processing plant" will be designed and constructed to recover uranium, vanadium and cobalt from ore from Western's mines and that produced by other miners, the company said. Selecting and acquiring the processing site - which requires road, power and water infrastructure - has taken more than a year. The selection was also based on the support of local municipal and county officials, it added.

The facility is to be built by at the Green River Industrial Park, where it will complement other planned strategic uses of the Industrial Complex, including a nuclear power plant, oil refinery and inland port facility, Western said in a subsequent announcement released on 25 January. "It is also an ideal location for a vanadium redox flow battery plant, as substantial amounts of vanadium will be produced from Western's Facility," it added.

Western said it expects the plant to be licensed and constructed for annual production of 2 million pounds U3O8 (769 tU) and 6-8 million pounds of V2O5, with initial production in 2026.

The facility will use the "latest processing technology", with advancements including Western's patented kinetic separation process that the company said will result in lower capital and processing costs. Western acquired a 25 year licence for kinetic separation (formerly known as ablation) and related patents through its 2015 purchase of Australian company Black Range. The company has previously estimated that kinetic separation - which results in milling a smaller quantity of more concentrated material - can reduce uranium production costs by 44-53%.

A number of "individuals and entities" have requested that the new facility is also designed to recover cobalt, Western said, adding Utah has "numerous occurrences" of the metal - which is used in battery technology and electric vehicles - that may be economical to mine, if a processing facility were available. Construction of the cobalt circuit will be dependent on the availability of feed material.

The company said it is confident that the uranium market "is in the early stages of a sustained upswing", with demand projected to far exceed available supply over the next few years, and the vanadium market is also poised for growth. "New projects will require capital, equipment and people," it said. Capital "appears to be available", but the "ready supply of mining and processing equipment, as well as the workforce needed, may be the larger challenge to meet future demand".

"This is one of the most significant events in the history of our company," Western President and CEO George Glasier said. "The processing facility, when completed, will provide Western with uranium and vanadium to sell into improving markets and thus result in substantial cash flow from operations."

Western - formerly Homeland Uranium - holds uranium and vanadium mineral assets in western Colorado and eastern Utah, including its flagship Sunday Mine Complex which comprises five individual mines. Since early 2022 Western has transitioned from employing a mining contractor at the complex to building an in-house mining operation, and earlier this month it announced that the refurbished mines have been reopened and are currently being ventilated with mining operations targeted to restart in early February. Initially, high-grade ore is to be stockpiled.

According to company information, the Sunday complex has total historical estimated resources of 2.914 U3O8 (1121 tU) at grades of 0.25-0.36%.

Only one conventional uranium mill - Energy Fuels' White Mesa, also in Utah - is currently operational in the USA. Two mills - Shootaring Canyon in Utah and Sweetwater in Wyoming - remain on standby, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). All the USA's uranium production in the third quarter of last year - the most recent for which EIA data is available - was from in-situ leach operations which recover the mineral from the orebody by dissolving it underground and pumping the solution to the surface for further processing, rather than milling ore.

This story was updated on 26 January 2023 to include details about the facility's location, capacity and expected initial production.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News