“Uranium is a very interesting and misunderstood subject, and we want to take the fogginess out of it,” said Harry Anthony, senior advisor for the company said during a Lunch and Learn session at Beeville Country Club on Thursday, Jan. 30.
“We have big plans for Bee County,” he announced.
UEC has focused its attention to the southwestern states, including Texas. The company’s name may sound familiar, as it has been heading a project in Goliad for several years.
Anthony noted that 20 percent of electricity in the U.S. is powered by uranium, and the state of Texas is vital to the company’s mining and exploration efforts. “People are surprised to learn that we have this valuable resource,” he said. “A lot of people don’t know that uranium is mined in Texas.”
Andrew Kurrus, vice president of resource development, explained the process of mining for uranium. “It’s kind of like a miniature version of oil and gas exploration,” he said.
“We use a GPS to locate a point; we bring in a bulldozer to clear the location, then we dig a pit and separate the caliche, then we bring an oil rig in and begin drilling.”
“When we reach total depth, we run a log into the hole and use a Prompt Fission Neutron (PFN) tool to measure the amount of uranium. We then plug the hole with cement and backfill, leaving the area looking exactly the way the we found it.”
Each ambassador for the company made a point to explain that UEC does not use chemicals or contaminate the groundwater during the type of mining process they use, known as in-situ recovery, or ISR.
“In-situ recovery is the answer to open pit mining,” Anthony said. “It does not disrupt the surface.”
“We reverse mother nature’s process — we add a little oxygen, then we release the uranium and bring it to the surface. We use reverse osmosis and put the water back into the ground and circulate it until the water quality is near the same as how we started,” Anthony explained.
Craig Wall, environmental health and safety officer for the company, handles the stacks of paperwork required to obtain the permits and leases needed in order to begin production. Wall said the company works closely with the Texas Railroad Commission and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).
The ISR process is also used in the Goliad project, the source of an ongoing battle between the company and the Goliad County Groundwater Conservation District.
“In Bee County, we are about ready to submit the mining permit,” Wall explained. “TCEQ will then do a review, and once they deem that we have met the requirements, they will send out public notices.”
Uranium mining has the potential to be lucrative for local landowners, as long as they are willing to be patient. As explained, the landowner would sign a lease allowing UEC to come drill on their property and search for uranium. If uranium is found, the company would then apply for the necessary permits, which could take several years. After receiving the permits, drilling would begin.
Kurrus said the company has seen uranium from about 150 to 1,100 feet down. “The state of Texas has made about 80 million pounds of uranium to date,” he said. “We think there is a lot left in Bee County.”
Wall mentioned that the Bee County project would create about 80 local jobs.
“Most people would have to be trained on the job,” he said. “We could pick up some welders from trade schools, but it’s hard to find people who already have uranium experience.”
When a question about cancer and other illnesses came up, UEC’s ambassadors assured that there is nothing to worry about. “If you get one full body X-ray or CT scan, you are exposed to more radiation through that X-ray than our employees ever are,” Wall said.
“In the areas where the ore deposits are and where we want to produce, the water doesn’t meet drinking standards. We use oxygen to mine — there are no chemicals.”
“We’re excited about our Bee County projects,” Anthony said. “We see a long-term project that could turn into a 25- to 30-year process.”
Lindsey Shaffer is the regional editor at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 119, or at regional@mySouTex.com.