According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), US production of uranium concentrate (U3O8) in the first quarter of 2023 totaled 2,511 pounds. This is 75% lower than first quarter 2022 production and a drop of 99% from fourth quarter 2022 as no material was produced this quarter at the White Mesa Mill in Utah.
This quarter’s total uranium production occurred at three facilities in Wyoming (Nichols Ranch ISR Project, Ross CPP, and Smith Ranch-Highland Operation). Of that, 92.5% (2,323 pounds) came from Smith Ranch-Highland Operation.
Uranium oxide concentrate (“yellowcake”) is produced from naturally occurring uranium minerals through milling uranium ore extracted through conventional mining or processing uranium-bearing solution from in situ recovery (ISR) operations. Most mining facilities include a mill; where mines are close together, one mill may process the ore from several mines.
In the milling process, uranium is extracted from the crushed and ground-up ore by leaching, in which either a strong acid or a strong alkaline solution is used to dissolve the uranium oxide. The uranium oxide is then precipitated and removed from the solution. After drying and usually heating, it is packed in drums as a concentrate.
US uranium mines produced 194,000 pounds of of triuranium octoxide (U3O8) in 2022, a significant increase from the 21,000 pounds produced in 2021 as production resumed at White Mesa Mill in Utah. White Mesa Mill is operated by Energy Fuels Resources. The site accounted for 161,934 pounds of U3O8 in 2022 (~83%).
The production of uranium concentrate is the first step in the nuclear fuel production process, preceding the conversion of U3O8 into UF6 to enable uranium enrichment, then fuel pellet fabrication, and finally fuel assembly fabrication.