An Inside Look At Cameco’s Smith Ranch Uranium Facility

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Cameco Corp (NYSE: CCJ) is the 800-pound gorilla of the uranium sector. Cameco is to uranium what Wal-Mart is to retailing, and what Saudi Aramco is to petroleum. On a percentage basis, Cameco dominates its sector more so than either of the two. Cameco most likely has more clout in turning off the electrical energy now powering your computer than any other company in the world.

This week, the spot price of uranium increased to $40/pound, for the first time considering that Ronald Reagan was president. That need to assist grow the uranium service in Wyoming by leaps and bounds. In Part 5, we look at the biggest U.S. uranium producer, Cameco-owned Power Resources.

 

Comprehending ‘In Situ Leach’ Uranium Extraction

” It took $284 million Canadian to construct, and it operated with 546 people,” said Patrick Drummond, Plant Superintendent for Cameco subsidiary Power Resources’ Smith Ranch center. He was indicating Kerr McGee’s Smith Ranch underground mine on the wall throughout from desk, which was later converted into an ISL operation, initially run by Rio Algom. “This operation cost US$ 44 million to construct and 80 individuals to begin.” Drummond was referring to the In Situ Leaching (ISL) uranium extraction center, referred to as Smith Ranch. “That should give you the scale of the ISL versus an underground mine,” he described.

The aging, but sprightly, Drummond understands his uranium. He’s operated in underground mines, open pit mines, and uranium mills because 1980. From 1996 to the present day, he’s operated in Wyoming for Power Resources at the business’s ISL uranium extraction facility. “I began in the coal mines in Scotland,” boasted Drummond, who claims he can identify a coal miner in a bar, simply by looking at the veins in his hands. “I worked up in Elliot Lake and the enormous underground mines up there.” Clasping his hands and looking down, he appeared to say sorry, “It’s likewise a massive environmental problem to tidy up, a major undertaking. Peculiarity Lake was one of the larger mines up there. It cost a lot of cash to clean it up.”

The New Face of Wyoming’s Uranium Mining is the ISL uranium extraction technique, likewise called option mining. The differences in between mining uranium underground and an ISL operation are both huge and minor. Both techniques mine uranium below the surface. So both techniques are underground mining. That is where the similarities end. “With underground, you raise the ore, grate it, crush it, and extract the uranium from the ore,” Drummond discussed the essentials of underground uranium mining. “That ore ends up being waste, which is called tailings. You then need to service these huge tailings and then decommission.”

 

ISL is the brand-new type of mining. “With ISL, we do not do that,” continued Drummond in his day-long lecture to our editorial team throughout a VIP tour of the Smith Ranch facility. “To mine underground with ISL, you drill the holes where the uranium is and extract the uranium from the underground ore,” he said. “Then, you process that into yellowcake.”

He pines away for his underground mines, “From a mining perspective, it’s not mining so it is not as exciting. Drummond laughs, “ISL is like a water treatment plant. He makes it sound so easy, “We eliminate the water from the underground and eliminate the ions, being the uranium ion.

 

Drummond points out more comparables, “To begin an underground mine, it would take a year to do the shaft prior to you might begin mining. There’s the advancement expense of the mill complex. You have all that outlay of cost before you can get any benefit. It’s expensive to do underground– $200 million plus– because of the in advance advancement expenses.” From his perspective, the miner in Drummond has actually pertained to like option mining. “ISL is much easier. It is a lot cheaper: less costly capital costs and less operating expenditures. It is less labor intensive.” Inquired about the lethal radon emissions, typically pointed out as a threat in underground mining, Drummond shot back, “This is a no emission center.”

“We likewise recover less uranium with ISL,” Drummond admitted. “Some of Cameco’s mines in Saskatchewan are running around 5, 10, 15, and 27 percent uranium. Plus the uranium ore body must be discovered listed below the water table.

 

To put it in the easiest terms, billions of years ago, the uranium discovered its way into the underground aquifers of Wyoming’s sandstones. “We add oxygen and get the uranium back into solution,” Drummond remarked. According to Drummond, extracting uranium works on the exact same principle as a water softener.

“Some of it is yellow; some of it is green or dark green. Some of it is black,” Drummond patiently described.

Drummond was referring to the In Situ Leaching (ISL) uranium extraction center, understood as Smith Ranch. The New Face of Wyoming’s Uranium Mining is the ISL uranium extraction method, also understood as solution mining. The differences between mining uranium underground and an ISL operation are both minor and large. “With underground, you bring up the ore, grate it, squash it, and extract the uranium from the ore,” Drummond described the essentials of underground uranium mining. “To my own underground with ISL, you drill the holes where the uranium is and extract the uranium from the underground ore,” he stated.

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