Mark Chalmers: Recycling of uranium is a good thing
(Photo courtesy Energy Fuels Resources (USA) Inc.)
The White Mesa Mill in southeast Utah is the last conventional uranium mill operating in the U.S.
According to Wikipedia,“Recycling is the process of converting waste materials into new materials and objects …. [i]t is an alternative to ‘conventional’ waste disposal that can save material and help lower greenhouse gas emissions.”
Our company, Energy Fuels, has an established recycling program in Utah spanning the last three decades that produces a clean energy resource that helps in the fight against climate change and air pollution. You’d think environmental advocates would enthusiastically applaud such a program. Well, you’d be wrong, as described in The Salt Lake Tribune’s June 16 article, “Estonia doesn’t want and can’t safely store radioactive powder, so 2,000 drums of it may be coming to southeastern Utah
Energy Fuels has submitted a license amendment application to the state of Utah under this program for the recycling of a valuable material that would otherwise go to waste. The material will come from Silmet, a company located in Estonia, which is a NATO member and important European ally of the U.S.
Silmet produces niobium and tantalum. Niobium is used in metallic alloys, including stainless steel. Tantalum is used in electronic components and alloys. A valuable byproduct of Silmet’s manufacturing process is a powder that contains some natural uranium that Energy Fuels can recover at our White Mesa Mill near Blanding. Uranium is of course the fuel for carbon-free nuclear energy, which produces 20% of all electricity in the U.S., and 55% of our carbon-free electricity.
Since 1998, the White Mesa Mill has recycled about 6 million pounds of uranium from projects like this. The uranium we have recycled has generated the equivalent electricity of 50 million tons of coal, or enough to fill a 4,700 mile train stretching from Los Angeles to New York City and almost all the way back again. This recycled uranium has prevented the release of 85 million tons of CO2 emissions and fueled the same amount of electricity as 24,500 wind turbines in one year.
The Silmet material is valuable to a uranium production company like us, because it contains about 0.27% uranium. This compares favorably to ore from uranium mines in the Four Corners Region that typically average about 0.25% uranium or less, meaning the Silmet material will actually result in a smaller quantity of tailings versus normal ore. Indeed, from this small project alone, the Mill will recycle the same amount of electricity as 44 wind turbines in a year, while preventing the release of over 150,000 tons of CO2 emissions, or the equivalent annual emissions of 33,000 passenger vehicles.
From a local perspective, the White Mesa Mill has an unmatched record of safety and environmental responsibility, is one of the largest private employers in San Juan County, Utah for the past 40 years and is fortunate to have a workforce that is over half Native American.
Energy Fuels, the White Mesa Mill and our dedicated Utah employees are proud of our recycling program and the benefits it provides to San Juan County, Utah and the global environment.
Mark Chalmers is president and CEO of Energy Fuels Resources (USA) Inc.