20 percent of U.S. electricity comes from 104 nuclear plants spread around the nation. From 43 million pounds of uranium per year in the early 1980s, the U.S. today produces around 4 million pounds.
The U.S. has made up for this production decrease with purchases from Russia of 20 million pounds annually for the past 20 years. But the nation will close that supply channel as soon as the Megatons to Megawatts program, worth $8 billion, shuts down this year.
Even with Kazakhstan, Canada, and Australia likely to replace Russian supply, advancing countries like China—with its 15 existing reactors and 126 developing reactors—will present stiff competition.
But uranium fracking—similar to hydraulic fracking—presents an interesting solution.
Uranium Energy Corp. (NYSE: UEC) began the process to extract uranium oxide, or yellowcake, from porous rock. Oxygenated water dissolves the uranium, and the solution is dried to result in yellowcake.
The yellowcake does not produce harmful radiation like regular uranium, though it is toxic through ingestion. For this reason, uranium fracking has already incited widespread environmental opposition.
The process occurs a mere 400-800 feet below surface—at the same level where groundwater exists.
“By design it’s much worse than fracking,” says Houston attorney Jim Blackburn, who is suing UEC on behalf of residents near the company’s new project in Goliad, Tex. “This is intentional contamination of a water aquifer liberating not only uranium but other elements that were bound up with the sand. We know this process will contaminate groundwater; that’s the whole point of it.”
Champions of the new idea argue the reverse—that they’re actually doing us a favor by removing pollutants. UEC’s CEO Amir Adnani says that since the uranium and groundwater are both contained in the same rock, the pollution is already there.
Texas-based Uranium Energy Corp. has a market capitalization of $250 million. The company has gone through $100 million in the past five years and incurred a net loss of $25 million last year, with yellowcake sales amounting to $13.7 million.
Its operations in Goliad County have prompted resistance from locals who worry about their water being contaminated. Back in 2007, UEC faced investigations and suits for improper plugging of exploratory wells.