Uranium Resources, Reserves, and Economics

Like most mineral commodities, U.S. uranium reserves are highly dependent on market price. Uranium supply shortages or even the perception of a shortage can drive prices higher, leading to more exploration and ultimately increased production. Wyoming has more than 20 uranium mining projects under evaluation and/or regulatory review, putting it in a good position to increase production if worldwide demand increases for uranium. If the price of yellowcake were $50 per pound, Wyoming hosts nearly 220 million pounds of economically viable, recoverable U3O8 (U.S. Energy Information Administration).

How much Uranium does Wyoming have?

In order to determine how much uranium exists in Wyoming, it is important to understand what are deposits, resources, reserves, and ore. While available data from uranium mining company websites total the equivalent of over more than 150 million pounds of yellowcake (measured, indicated, and inferred resources and reserves— see below) the actual amount is certainly far higher, at least in terms of resources. Most, if not all, companies are in the ongoing process of evaluating mining holdings, prospects, and claims, and thus do not yet have a reliable determination of what the total minable resources are, especially given lower prices for yellowcake sales, so what the companies know at this point is usually withheld from public access. Furthermore, much of the uranium in the ground as determined by drill hole data would not be considered economically minable given today’s lower prices (about $20.50 per pound as of mid-April 2018). More information can be found at the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s website.

Map of uranium resources by state
States with mineable uranium reserves, resources, and uranium production. [Credit: WSGS]

Mining Methods and Economics

The economic viability of uranium mining is often largely dependent on the method of recovery. Conventional methods involve excavating, processing, and extracting uranium into a fluid from which yellowcake can be concentrated. In-situ recovery methods are relatively inexpensive compared to conventional methods because in-situ recovery avoids costly excavation as well as milling, heap leaching, and extensive reclamation. In this case, for a low-grade ore, it is more economically beneficial to mine using less expensive in-situ methods. Typically, an ore deposit that is not minable by in-situ recovery will need to be significantly higher grade in order to be economic and to be classified as a reserve.

Many countries contain mineable uranium resources. Australia holds the world’s largest resources with more than 1.66 million metric tons of uranium (one metric ton equals 2,205 pounds). The United States ranks 15th in resources and ninth in production worldwide. Kazakhstan leads the world in production, supplying 41 percent of the global output in 2017 (World Nuclear Association, 2019).

Map of uranium resources by country
Countries producing uranium. [Credit: WSGS]

The Future of Uranium Mining

Despite the relatively low prices for U3O8 the future of uranium appears to be strong due to increasing international demand and current domestic energy needs. Uranium will continue to play a key role in meeting the growing demand for electric power from burgeoning economies as well as from smaller nations trying to modernize and elevate their standard of living. In the effort to meet society’s electricity demands, nuclear energy has gained momentum, particularly because of its reliability, efficiency, and absence of CO2 emissions.

Advanced reactor and fuel technology have made nuclear power plants far more efficient than plants that burn fossil fuels. The volatility of the price of petroleum energy sources has also led countries to choose nuclear power over fossil fuels. Given the abundant supply of uranium that exists around the world and its advantages over fossil fuels, the use of uranium may increase and keep the industry strong well into the future.


Kelsey Kehoe, kelsey.kehoe@wyo.gov