CASPER, Wyo. — Two Wyoming uranium companies have cut a deal to process more uranium produced in the state.
Casper-based Uranerz Energy Corp. will ship uranium from its recently licensed Nichols Ranch site in southern Campbell County to Cameco Resources’ Smith Ranch-Highland processing plant north of Douglas in Converse County.
Uranerz says it will initially produce 600,000 to 800,000 pounds of uranium oxide, also known as yellowcake, through its deal with Cameco. Uranerz has a federal license to produce 2 million pounds of production per year at the Nichols Ranch site, but is choosing to process its uranium at the Cameco facility.
“It’s a way for us at this time to save capital, particularly until we get in a situation where we’ve got revenue,” Uranerz Chief Executive and President Glenn Catchpole said. “And it should allow us to get into production sooner.”
Catchpole said Uranerz expects to begin production from its Nichols Ranch site in the second half of 2012.
The Smith Ranch-Highland project is federally licensed to process 4 million pounds a year, but only processes about half that now, according to officials with Cameco Resources, a Wyoming-based subsidiary of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan-based Cameco Corp.
The Cameco-Uranerz deal “will help make both of our operations more efficient, ensuring jobs and continued growth in Wyoming’s uranium industry,” Cameco Resources President Paul Goranson said.
The deal means Uranerz won’t develop its own processing plant at the site as it originally planned.
Instead, Uranerz will build a building needed for a full processing facility but only install the equipment needed for the first stage of processing, the company said.
“Uranerz will retain the regulatory and physical flexibility to install a full processing plant at the Nichols Ranch ISR mine at a later date if it chooses to do so,” said George Hartman, Uranerz executive vice president and chief operating officer.
In the in-situ recovery process, a solution of water, baking soda and oxygen is pumped underground to leach uranium free from an underground deposit and transport it to the surface. The uranium is then pulled from the solution and converted into yellowcake that can be easily shipped for further processing.
Uranerz still plans to build a satellite first-stage processing facility at its adjacent Hank property and will submit applications for development of its nearby Jane Dough property early next year.
Cameco officials said taking on the Uranerz processing work wouldn’t halt its development of additional uranium resources that may use the plant for processing.
“The addition of up to 800,000 pounds a year from Uranerz will still allow full growth from our own new sites that we are working to bring into production,” Goranson said.
The current Cameco production in Wyoming totaled about half of the uranium produced in the United States last year.