Ablation technology agreed for Pinon Ridge uranium mill

04 November 2016

Western Uranium Corporation has signed a letter of intent with Pinon Ridge Corporation to use its ablation mining technology at uranium recovery facilities at the Pinon Ridge mill site in Colorado. The technology is currently being assessed by state regulators.

The letter of intent provides for all ore produced by Western's mines in the region to be processed at the mill to produce uranium and vanadium using the application of ablation mining technology and traditional milling techniques. The letter of intent is subject to the signature of a definitive agreement between the parties, which is expected to be completed by 1 March 2017.

Pinon Ridge Corporation was founded by Western president and CEO George Glasier with Baobab Asset Management LLC. Its subsidiary, Pinon Ridge Resources Corporation, holds the licence for the proposed mill. The Pinon Ridge project, including the radioactive materials licence for the mill, was sold to the private investor group by Energy Fuels in 2014.

NRC gives opinion

The ablation technology, which is being commercialised by Western subsidiary Black Range Minerals, is currently being evaluated by the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment (CDPHE). Colorado is a so-called Agreement State, meaning that it is responsible for regulating uranium recovery operations rather than the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).

The evaluation process began in July 2015, prior to Black Range's acquisition by Western in September of that year. The technique is particularly applicable to sandstone-hosted uranium deposits and involves using mechanical processes to separate uranium minerals that form a patina on individual grains of host rock. The material can then be screened to collect a high-grade ore product that can then be milled to produce yellowcake, U3O8.

As part of its regulatory process the CDPHE earlier this year sought the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) opinion on whether the waste produced from the ablation process is considered as by-product material if it does not contain hazardous materials or radioactive materials above background levels. The NRC's definition of by-product materials includes tailings or wastes produced from the extraction or concentration of uranium, which must be managed as hazardous wastes.

Announcing the letter of intent, Western said the NRC had now provided the CDPHE with an advisory opinion recommending that the technology, when used at a conventional uranium mill, should be regulated as a "milling" operation. Although Western said its counsel did not agree with NRC's opinion, the company noted the NRC recognised that "exemptions to certain 'milling' regulatory requirements could be appropriate due to the benign nature of non-uranium bearing sands produced after ablation is completed".

"The Western team appreciates the advancement of the ablation mining technology through the CDPHE regulatory process. Western now has some regulatory certainty as to how it must proceed to fully leverage the multiple potential applications of this technology to uranium recovery operations, site remediation, and applications," Glasier said. "Given this certainty, Western is now in a position to construct a development plan to move forward with its envisioned commercial operations," he added. "Entering into the LOI provides Western with flexibility to begin production expeditiously when market conditions for production of U308 and vanadium are favourable."

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News