A uranium mining project in northeastern Wyoming cleared its last regulatory hurdle Tuesday and should start operation next year.

The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality approved a deep disposal well permit for Uranerz Energy Corp.’s Nichols Ranch uranium facility, the final permit needed to begin production on the site, located about halfway between Gillette and Kaycee.

Nichols Ranch will become the company’s first active facility in Wyoming. The site will include in-situ recovery wells and a central processing plant. The company began construction on the site in August 2011.

Uranerz hopes to start production at Nichols Ranch in the first quarter of 2013. The company is licensed to produce up to two million pounds of uranium on site per year, but expects to start with somewhere between 600,000 and 800,000 pounds.

Uranerz signed a deal in December to transport Nichols Ranch uranium to nearby Smith Ranch-Highland, a facility owned by Cameco Resources, for further processing.

In-situ recovery is a technique in which a solution is pumped into rock formations, freeing and transporting trapped uranium to the surface.

The site is expected to eventually serve as a central base for several other under-development Uranerz properties, including the Hank, Jane Dough, Reno Creek and North Rolling Pin projects, all located in the Powder River Basin. Company officials have said establishing steady production at Nichols Ranch is their first priority.

“With this final permit in hand, Uranerz will focus on installing two deep disposal wells this winter while completing the remaining construction activities,” Glenn Catchpole, company chief executive and president, said in a statement. “We are all very excited at the prospect of becoming America’s next ISR uranium producer in 2013.”

Nichols Ranch is the second Wyoming uranium project this month to receive final approval.

The Bureau of Land Management this month approved the environmental impact statement for Ur-Energy’s Lost Creek uranium facility northwest of Rawlins, the project’s final regulatory hurdle. The Lost Creek project is expected to produce uranium by next summer.

Reach energy reporter Adam Voge at 307-266-0561, or at adam.voge@trib.com. Read his blog at http://trib.com/news/opinion/blogs/boom or follow him on Twitter @vogeCST.

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