(Editor’s Note: This is the fourth and final installment in this series.)
And so where do our small, isolated communities in San Juan County fit into the emerging international race to make nuclear power generation the cornerstone of a pollution free world?
If I could definitively say where we and this nation will be in another decade, I would be writing for the Wall Street Journal. Unfortunately, no one really knows. But, there are a lot of indicators… literally hundreds of thousands of articles and stories on the subject are as close as your computer. Just google “uranium”.
I have clipped every article I have seen on uranium the last three years. I have spent hours on the internet. There is so much information available it becomes overwhelming. So here is my best shot in the space allotted. First a summary of what has been covered in past articles; both in 2006 and the last three weeks.
Most of the world is deeply concerned about global warming.
Global warming is caused by greenhouse gases.
Greenhouse gases come from burning fossil fuels.
Fossil fueled power plants, especially coal-fired plants, are the major polluters.
The best substitute for fossil fuel power plants (with current technology) is nuclear reactors, which emit no greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Nuclear Power plants are fueled with highly enriched uranium.
The Colorado Plateau (with San Juan County at it’s center) has more known uranium deposits than any other area of the United States.
The price of uranium has fluctuated from $7 to $136 per pound since 2000. Uranium could reach $200 per pound in the not too distant future
The world’s operating nuclear plants are using more uranium than is currently being produced, because of huge left-over (but quickly disappearing) cold war stockpiles.
Unless world production of uranium ore grows tremendously, demand will far outstrip supply and the price could spike to unheard of prices until supply and demand realign.
Now add to these facts that San Juan County has the only operating uranium mill in the United States, with an operating capacity of 8,000 tons of ore a day at peak production. The 24 hour a day start-up of the mill south of Blanding is scheduled to begin any day.
Just the wealth generated by todays mining, trucking and milling has been a huge economic stimulous throughout the region. And it appears things are just getting started. Of the hundreds of sources that could be quoted, let’s look at a few press releases for just the last month:
March 5, 2008 - The Uranium Report – A Streetwise Publication: The Royal Bank of Canada Capital Markets is telling clients that “we think the sentiment of the uranium market has changed substantially in a very short period…and we think the spot market is set for a strong rally.”
March 7, 2008: Salt Lake Tribune : Transition Power Company, the developer of Utah’s first Nuclear Power Plant has landed on the Federal Government’s nuclear license to-do list. A letter to the U. S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) last month keeps the company’s place in the line of 22 reactor licenses applicants in various stages of review. Pending applications are the first in 30 years for the NRC. The agency has streamlined its process in recent years to facilitate new applications.
March 8, 2008: Deseret Morning News: Tecton Corp., a Swiss company said this week that it has expanded its land holdings in San Juan County by acquiring 207 claims. Their Firefly project is located 28 miles north of Monticello, Utah. Tecton, based in Zurich, Switzerland, holds an option to acquire a 100 percent interest in 4000 acres on 207 unpatented federal mining claims in the area. Tecton plans an aggressive exploration program with the goal of discovering new uranium deposits.
March 27, 2008: Mesa Uranium Corp. press release: “The Lisbon Valley Mining District has produced in excess of 100 million pounds of U308 from massive, high-grade-, multimillion-pound U308 mines. Drilling programs by Mesa have discovered several new
U308 zones, and stepped up drilling is planned for 2008 to define these occurrences. Mesa controls over 32 square miles of mining claims and leases in this world-class district. Mesa’s drilling over the past year have blocked out a potential of 100 million pounds of U308.”
April 1, 2008: Deseret Morning News: “Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are already too high, and plans to burn remaining coal and oil reserves should be scrapped” said James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.
While traveling in Louisiana November 29, 2007, I purchased a newspaper (USA TODAY) and was surprised to find a full-page ad extolling the wisdom of investing in uranium stocks in Southeastern Utah. A few quotes from the ad:
“Uranium stocks recently gave investors profits of 1,030%… 2,600%… 6,100% and Utah Uranium offers investors similar profit potential. Do not miss out on this raging uranium bull. Buy shares of Utah Uranium (OTCBB:UTUC) today.
“The price of uranium has tripled. The analysts all seem to agree that it’s going to keep going up and up as the world moves more and more to nuclear power…” Ed Cotter, U. S. Energy Deparment Analyst.
“Uranium, not oil, will become the world’s go-to energy source. And Uranium investors will make fortunes practically overnight.”
“Nuclear power is back and not a moment too soon…Uranium prices are soaring”
Space limitations preclude further quotes, but thousands of additional reports and stories are available on-line.
So what might we deduce from all this? How big might this fledgling boom become? How rich will San Juan County become as its assessed valuation skyrockets from mines which may hold billions of dollars worth of uranium and vanadium ore?
Mesa mining Corporation, just one of many players in the County, says in the last year they have discovered ore deposits containing over 100 million pounds of yellowcake in one relatively small area of Lisbon Valley.
At $200 a pound, these discoveries alone could produce $20 billion worth of ore. Multiply those kinds of finds and figures by some of the other major players, and the future could be mindboggling.
With at least two more mills ramping up in this area, and more being planned, with international mining companies with deep pockets drilling for new discoveries all over the Colorado Plateau, with new mines opening every month, the day may come, and a lot sooner than many of us think, when San Juan County and the Colorado Plateau may become one of the great energy centers of the world.
In the late 1950’s, San Juan County had an assessed valuation of $132 million, second only to Salt Lake County. Most of that value came from the rich uranium mines of the era like the Mi Vida and the Happy-Jack. And remember the price of uranium back then was only a few dollars a pound.
It was hard to believe at the time for those of us who lived through it. And yes, we fell on hard times when the uranium industry collapsed. And yes, San Juan has suffered in other ways as a result of those early boom years.
But perhaps, (depending on your point of view) the long wait and all the sacrifice will finally pay off. Is it not without the realm of possibility that in the future San Juan County’s assessed valuation could be 132 billion dollars… (a thousand times what it has ever been) maybe more.
Try to imagine the ripple effects of that kind of wealth in our communities. Imagine the contribution that San Juan County will make in helping the United States toward its goal of energy independence.
Of course no one can say for sure where all this is going. But with every ore truck which rumbles through our towns, the cacophony of change, progress and prosperity grows. The economic future of this area, while still in its nuclear infancy, looks brighter than it ever has. Fasten your seat belts. It could be a ride that none of us can comprehend at the moment.