Neutron Energy Inc. is in the process of preparing a mine permit application to submit to the state Mining and Minerals Division to resurrect two mines, one in the Laguna Pueblo area southwest of Santa Fe and one in the San Marcos land grant area, south of Eldorado.
"We picked up properties that already had a fair amount of development but then had shut down," Neutron Regional Geologist Michael Coleman says.
Like Rio Grande Resources, Neutron is in the position of trying to estimate when uranium will become profitable to mine again. Although New Mexico has some of the country's largest resources of uranium—and the largest of high-quality uranium—the United States hasn't been a major world supplier of the radioactive material for decades. That distinction belongs now to Canada, Russia and Kazakhstan.
Coleman says that uranium's current market price of about $50 per pound is high enough to make uranium mining lucrative already, but for a mine that isn't currently in operation to get started up, companies like Neutron are hoping for a better return. At an Aug. 17 hearing before the state Mining and Minerals Division, Rio Grande Resources, which owns Mt Taylor Mine near Grants, refused to divulge what price it's looking for, calling that proprietary information. Coleman says Neutron is similarly restricted in what it discloses.
"I know $50 a pound would be an acceptable price if you already had a mine and everything built and in place and operating...but for companies who still have a lot of money to spend for permitting activities as well as developing the mine itself, we can't do that and realize a profit at $50. Something upwards of that is much more desirable for us," Coleman says.
Once Neutron gets its applications in, it will take about two years for them to be processed, Coleman tells SFR. It would probably begin mining about four or five years from now, after doing the myriad environmental and cultural studies needed for state and federal approval of such a product. Coleman said Neutron is optimistic about the not-too-distant future prospects for uranium mining in the state.
At the Mt Taylor Mine hearing, one of the points made by Rio Grande Resources Corp detractors was that RGRC claimed in its last five-year permit application (for the permit it received in 2005) that it expected to begin mining by now. It didn't, even though uranium prices spiked in 2007 at almost $140 per pound. Applicants for such "standby" permits have to demonstrate that they expect the venture to become financially viable within the permit period, so RGRC made that claim again this time, drawing skepticism from the New Mexico Environmental Law Center and others. But Coleman said that doesn't necessarily mean RGRC will keep treading water for the next five years as well.
"I tend to think the chances of production are much greater in this five-year period than the last one," Coleman says.