Red-Hot Resources

"Luck is not chance, it’s toil; fortune’s expensive smile is earned.”

Friday, May 25, 2007

Atomic Fun

On Thursday, I visited two operating In-Situ Recovery uranium operations. I hesitate to call them “mines” because even though they extract uranium from the earth, they aren’t using shovels. Instead, they build what are essentially giant water treatment plants (sort of like the world’s biggest Culligan Water Softener) to suck the uranium out of porous sand layers between layers of clay. It is this geological feature that makes ISR recovery work so well in Texas.

There’s still uranium involved. It’s just not your classic definition of a mine.

The ISR process takes place at a central plant. This is fed by satellite operations that are connected by LO-O-O-O-NG hoses or that produce slurry that is trucked to the central plant. The slurry is trucked in a vehicle like this ...

Man, I so want one of those "RADIOACTIVE" signs for the front of my car. I would so RULE the South Florida highways.

Of course, a visit to the field wouldn't be complete without a photo next to a drilling rig. I posed for one yesterday. Today, you can see my friend Jason D'Alessandro, a fund analyst from New York, doing the same ...
And yes, ladies, he's single (LOL!)

I've previously written about ISR operations using baking soda to rub the uranium off the rocks. Maybe in some places, but not so in Texas. Instead, they just use oxygenated water. Here are the oxygen tanks at the field operation. I'm titling this next picture "Great Balls of Oxygen" ...

The Oxygen tanks (and everything else) are on skids resting on cement slabs. This makes it very easy to move the different pieces where they are needed and tinkertoy them together. It also makes rehabilitation of the area very easy once the ISR operation is done.

And this is your basic field ISR operation ...What we see here are two rows of pumps -- one to pump the oxygenated water in, one to pump the uranium-rich water out. That's basically it. Using this method, ISR operators have a 75% recovery rate (they recover 75% of the uranium resource in the ground). However, with uranium prices climbing, it's becoming worth their while to go back and get more of the uranium out.

And all that pumping produces this ...

This is uranium slurry -- little plastic beads to which the uranium attaches itself. Now, you'll notice that the slurry is in someone's hand. I'd like to make it clear that it is not MY hand (or Jason's hand for that matter). Indeed, it is the hand of someone who should know if this is a good idea or not. 'Nuff said.

Well, we've recovered the slurry. On to the ISR plant ...

This looks amazingly like the Lego playground castle in West Palm Beach, but it's actually an ISR plant. Uranium is being recovered there as we speak, to the tune of a million pounds per year. It's a fairly simple operation -- as I said, basically a water treatment plant. I could show you a bunch of vats and tubes, but what does that prove. Instead, here's what you've been waiting for -- the money shot!Oh yeah, that's yellowcake uranium in that little plastic container being held by an engineer. I don't want to say that uranium engineers tend to be old, but some of them (not the young man pictured) wrote their doctorates on "dirt" and "rocks", which were fairly new concepts in those days. Just kidding!

All kidding aside, the manpower problem in the uranium industry is reaching critical mass. If you have a kid approaching college age who is looking for a career, you could do worse than to push him or her toward geology or mining engineering.

And now, what do we have for our contestants ...
Each of these barrels contains 900 pounds of 83% pure yellowcake. In other words, each barrel is worth $93,735 at today's spot market price. I wonder what they'll be worth next week?

Time for me to hop on a plane. Have a good weekend.


Oh, here's something to get your weekend on. It's "something danceable"...

Check out my new gold and energy blog at