More progress towards US uranium production restarts

16 March 2023

Uranium production will resume at the Alta Mesa processing plant in early 2024, enCore Energy has announced, making it the company's second producing location following resumption of uranium production at the South Texas Rosita plant which is scheduled for later this year. Meanwhile, supply chain issues have meant a slight delay to the restart of commercial production at Peninsula Energy's Lance project.

Alta Mesa is in located in the South Texas region (Image: enCore)

enCore announced its formal production decision for the resumption of uranium processing at Alta Mesa - which has been on standby since 2013 - on 15 March. The processing plant can reach commercial production levels with limited required capital, from funds on hand, within an estimated 10 months, the company said.

The fully licensed and constructed in-situ leach (ISL) uranium project and central processing facility has a total operating capacity of 1.5 million pounds U3O8 (577 tU) per year. Alta Mesa historically produced nearly 5 million lbs of U3O8 between 2005 and 2013, when full production was curtailed as a result of low uranium prices at the time.

Work already under way at the Texas plant includes the construction of equipment staging areas and drill pads in the fully permitted production authorisation area where initial production will take place. Development drilling, production and injection well installation will start this month, the company said. Its technical staff are identifying equipment maintenance and limited repair needs at the processing plant's ion exchange system, uranium precipitation, drying and packaging circuits in order to restart production.

enCore began initial assessment work on the restart in November 2022 ahead of the closing of its acquisition of Alta Mesa earlier this year, CEO Paul Goranson said. "It is an exciting time at enCore. Our 2023 startup of production at Rosita and now, the decision to proceed at Alta Mesa, will bring a reliable domestic low carbon energy source to South Texas and the United States when it is most needed," he added.

The Alta Mesa project consists of two uranium properties, Alta Mesa and MesteƱa Grande, with total measured and indicated resources of 3.41 million pounds U3O8 and inferred resources of 16.79 million pounds.

The company's three fully licensed ISL facilities - Alta Mesa, Rosita and Kingsville Dome, all of which are in Texas - have a combined potential processing capacity of 3.6 million pounds of uranium per year.

Lance set for mid-year restart

Meanwhile, Peninsula Energy said commercial production at its Lance ISL project in Wyoming is now not expected until the middle of this year due to "modest delays" in the delivery of "certain long lead-time items". Commercial production had been pencilled in to begin during the present quarter.

Lance last produced uranium in July 2019. The company made a financial investment decision in November to return to operations using a low-pH recovery process. It will be the first low-pH ISL uranium operation in the USA.

Managing Director and CEO Wayne Heili said the project has been delivering "remarkable results" despite the supply chain issues. "The current inflationary economic environment and very real supply-chain constraints, in combination with an unusually difficult Wyoming winter, have presented challenges but the team has demonstrated their professional capability and resolve," he said. "Despite encountering some delivery delays that are outside of our control, the team continues to complete the transition construction work on a short timeline and within the projected capital framework."

Researched and written by World Nuclear News