Nuclear Power

23 May 2020

Energy Fuels looks to Rare Earths to Enhance White Mesa Operations

23 May 2020  by World Nuclear News   
 White Mesa Mill (Image: Energy Fuels)
Energy Fuels Inc is continuing work on a programme to investigate using the USA's only currently operational conventional uranium mill, White Mesa, to process uranium and thorium-bearing rare earth element (REE) ores and recover uranium while producing REE concentrates.

The company has entered into consulting agreements with two REE industry experts, Constantine Karayannopoulos and Brock O'Kelley, to help it in the development and implementation of commercial and technical REE strategies.

"Over the past year or so, Energy Fuels has been actively evaluating this rare earth opportunity," Energy Fuels President and CEO Mark Chalmers said. "We are quickly coming to the conclusion that the White Mesa Mill may be an ideal US facility to process rare earth element ore streams and produce rare earth concentrates.

The company said yesterday that it is evaluating "minor modifications" to its operations, complementary to its uranium business, to enable the processing of uranium and thorium-bearing rare earth ores at the fully licensed and operational mill in Utah".

Such ores are expected to come from third parties, either through ore purchase, tolling, or other arrangements. The company expects to produce a commercially viable rare earth concentrate or concentrates, while also recycling and recovering uranium from the ores. The rare earth concentrates could then be available for commercial sale to third party REE oxide separation and recovery facilities, or could potentially undergo further refinement and REE separation and recovery at White Mesa.

"Removal and recovery of the uranium and thorium from rare earth ores is the key aspect of Energy Fuels' value proposition, as many rare earth separation and recovery facilities are not able to handle uranium or thorium from a technical or regulatory standpoint," the company said.

White Mesa, which has a 40-year history of handling, processing and recycling uranium and thorium-bearing materials, has the potential to provide a "crucial link" in a commercially viable US REE supply chain, it said, adding: "It should be noted that Energy Fuels intends to continue to focus on its current uranium mining and production operations, and possibly enhance that production by recovering the contained uranium from REE ores for sale into the nuclear fuel cycle."

Chalmers said the project would further Energy Fuels' sustainability programme. "Under our planned US rare earth business, we will not only be recycling uranium from rare earth ore streams that would otherwise be lost, we will be helping to produce rare earth elements, which are key components of numerous modern technologies," he said. "From a sustainability perspective, not only will Energy Fuels provide critical rare earth elements used in many advanced technologies and clean energy applications, we will also provide recycled uranium to fuel carbon-free nuclear energy and power these technologies."

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