Uranium Mining in The US

Blake Martinez
February 24, 2015

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2015


Fig. 1: Description of in-situ mining methods were preformed. [5] Injection wells (1) pump a chemical solution - typically groundwater mixed with sodium bicarbonate, hydrogen peroxide, and oxygen - into the layer of earth containing uranium ore. The solution dissolves the uranium from the deposit in the ground and is then pumped back to the surface through recovery wells (2). Monitoring wells (3) ensure that nothing escapes from the drilling area. (Source: Wikimedia Commons. Courtesy of the NRC.)

Uranium mining may be seen as only used for nuclear energy usage but its first ever use was when making uranium bearing ore back in the 1890's. However, it wasn't too popular until prospectors like Charlie Steen started making fortunes in the late 1940's and early 1950's. Even at this time the U.S was the leading producer of uranium in the world. Then now a day's production of uranium comes from Utah, Wyoming, Texas and Nebraska and are producing 4.8 million pounds of uranium (most since the 1997). Additionally, the reason for this huge increase in mining is because of the price uranium per pound is $90. [1]

What is Uranium Mining

Uranium's main use in his world in to produce electricity and a small amount is used for producing medical isotopes. Traces of it are almost found everywhere, it is more abundant than gold. To find this abundant material different mining techniques are used: open cut, underground, and in-situ each mining. Open mining and underground are the most used technique where they will have a removal of an abundant source of waste rock. Then the in-situ leach is where they will pump rock and dirt from underwater and store that for later searching of uranium. (Fig. 1) The search and discovery of uranium happens in the Milling process. During the process the rock and paid dirt will be moved to this will where the ore will be crushed and grounded. Then soaked in sulfuric acid to dissolve the uranium oxides. Finally, the solution is then processed to recover the uranium.

Uranium mining has increased jobs throughout multiple states and increased their economic state tremendously per year. For example in an article from Virginia "New Uranium Mining Study Assesses Economic, Social Impacts" states, "mining uranium in Southside Virginia could support up to 1,000 jobs annually in one of the state's most economically depressed areas, with an impact of about $135 million a year ..."

Overall uranium mining is used all over the world and is understandable why because of the applications it can be used for and the amount of profit that it can bring to you economy. The abundance allows this but the question is when will it run out for the U.S or even the rest of the world? The use in 2013 only had 4% of recoverable uranium available and other countries pretty close to that number. Will this be sustainable for the future or will be have to find another form of substance for energy?

What is the Future for Uranium Mining

Fig. 2: This is a picture of the material Uranium that so many miners have spent their whole lives mining. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The future is extremely bright in numerous accounts because it is so essential to our daily lives. The uranium accounts for at least 20% of our electricity production and without this inefficiency would happen everywhere. The great part of uranium is that it has consistently been a high demand item and there is a significant amount throughout the world and the US. coal, natural gas, petroleum and other energy sources. [2]

There are a few problems that arise from the mining operations though that are making it difficult to have increase productivity. The main risk is to the workers that have to mine and handle the uranium because of the radiation from the uranium. For example, in the article "Dangers of Uranium" it states, "it is estimated that 70% of lung cancer deaths in non-smoking miners ... are due to exposure from the radon progeny." Uranium is the leading cause of such cancer in non-smokers and is linked to as many as 20,000 lung cancer deaths annually in the United States. Additionally, not only the miners but the families had to go through numerous amounts of hardship because miners would develop post traumatic stress disorders that would cause families to fall apart. [3,4]

Overall, uranium hasn't lowered in profit in over 10 years and experts still say it won't be slowing down anytime soon. Another important fact is that environmentalist are starting to realize that nuclear power is the cleanest form of energy out there. Lastly, the money flow to build more mining facilities and equipment are more likely to happen then other forms of resource findings. Which brings me to conclude that uranium is here to stay and will be making improvements in this world for years to come.

© Blake Martinez. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] S. Moran and A. Raup, "Uranium Ignites 'Gold Rush' in the West," New York Times, 27 Mar 07.

[2] J. Spencer and N. Loris, "Uranium Mining Is Important for Securing America's Energy Future," The Heritage Foundation, Web Memo No. 1866, 25 Mar 08.

[3] D. Brugge, T. Benally and E. Yazzie-Lewis, Eds. The Navajo People and Uranium Mining (U. of New Mexico Press, 2007).

[4] A. C. Miller, "The Navajo People and Uranium Mining," Environ. Health Perspect. 115, A224 (2007).

[5] "2013-2014 Information Digest," U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, NUREG-1350, Vol. 25, July 2013.