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Old Uranium Drive-In sign in Uravan, Colorado, the site of major uranium opeerations in the 20th century. Photo credit: CGS.

Uranium

Although uranium occurs in several areas of the state, much of the historic uranium and vanadium production is from numerous and relatively small mines in the Uravan mineral belt located in Mesa, Montrose, and San Miguel Counties. This area accounted for about 77% of the total uranium production in Colorado. The Uravan mineral belt mines produced almost 14 million tons of ore averaging 0.24 percent triuranium octoxide (U3O8) and over 356 million pounds of vanadium oxide. Uranium minerals formed irregular deposits in this area commonly referred to as roll-front uranium deposits. Vanadium typically occurs with uranium in these deposits. Most of these deposits are in sandstones of the Jurassic Morrison Formation. Roll-front deposits containing uranium also occur in other areas of the state like the Fox Hills Sandstone in Weld County. A different vein-type uranium deposit was mined in Precambrian gneiss and schist at the historic Schwartzwalder mine in Jefferson County. The Schwartzwalder was reportedly the single largest uranium mine in Colorado and produced 10.5 million pounds of U3O8 by 1978.

There are several uranium resources in Colorado including the Graysill property (vanadium and uranium), the Tallahassee Creek deposits in Park and Fremont counties, and the Maybell deposits in Moffat County as well as others. Although Colorado has been a producer of uranium in the past, there are currently no producing uranium mines or mills in Colorado. Uranium was last produced in Colorado around 2005 in Montrose County. Uranium reserves are abundant in Colorado and several companies continue to explore and maintain uranium mining permits in Colorado.

Although Colorado has been a producer of uranium in the past, there are currently no producing uranium mines or mills in Colorado. As of 2019, the proposed Pinon Ridge uranium mill located in Montrose County is on hiatus due to a 2018 court ruling. In 2019, uranium concentrate production from U.S. mines in 2019 was the lowest recorded since 1949. Uranium is listed as a critical mineral by the U.S. Geological Survey. In 2019, over 90% of uranium purchased and delivered to U.S. civilian nuclear power reactors came from other countries including: Canada (21%), Kazakhstan (18%), Australia (18%), Russia (15%), Uzbekistan (9%), and Namibia (5%). In July 2019, a presidential memorandum ordered the establishment of the U.S. Nuclear Fuel Working Group (NFWG) “to develop recommendations for reviving and expanding domestic nuclear fuel production.” In 2020, the NFWG announced a nuclear energy strategy which included strengthening the U.S. uranium mining and conversion industries and in early 2019, a federal judge lifted a ban on some uranium leases in southwest Colorado. The DOE Office of Legacy Management (DOE LM) restarted their uranium leasing program on uranium-rich public lands as it did in 2008. This program leases properties in the Uravan mineral belt area in Colorado. The DOE LM properties reportedly contain an estimated 13.5 million pounds of uranium resources and, as of July 2020, all the remaining tracts were leased.