Some 35,000 people may descend on Casper and Natrona County for the solar eclipse in mid-August, among them denizens of the Wyoming uranium industry.
For the first time since 2011, a Wyoming chapter of the Society of Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration is hosting a trade show and conference, boasting key note speakers like U.S. House Rep. Liz Cheney, state lawmaker Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, and Uranerz Energy Corp. Vice President Paul Goranson.
“It was a way of exchanging ideas, what folks were doing, lessons learned,” said Sheryl Garling, organizer for the event and a member of the Central Wyoming division of the national society.
The industry has trudged through a trough of low prices in recent years. Some hope for a slow rise in the price of yellowcake in the coming years. The largest known uranium reserves in the U.S. reside in Wyoming, but as a global commodity, the state’s sector is moved, shaped and shaken by an international market.
During the recent downturn, interest in gathering to talk shop waned, Garling said.
She hopes the symposium will create the kind of sparks that early symposiums did when uranium was just developing as a national industry.
Garling has been involved in uranium symposiums since the late-’70s, and has seen meetings swell with people when prices were robust and when technology like in-situ mining was in its infancy.
Expectations for next month are more modest.
“If we get 250, I’m going to be really tickled,” Garling said. “We should have had [a symposium] in 2015, but there was just no one out there that would support it. They were reducing their staff, and they just didn’t have the manpower.”
The long list of participants this year includes geologists and engineers, academics and environmental regulators. The symposium will also offer limited tours of uranium mines north of Casper.
Some of the presentations will likely resonate in Wyoming’s uranium industry.
Donn Pillmore, from Energy Fuels Resources, will talk about bringing a historic uranium mine, the Canyon Mine in Arizona, back to life after years of stagnation.
A long-time uranium operator in Wyoming recently announced that his new company, URZ Energy, would resurrect some sites in Wyoming that haven’t been mined for uranium in decades.
Peter Woods, from the International Atomic Energy Agency, will present a report on supply and demand of uranium in the global market.
More than 20 countries produce uranium, but production growth from some of the main players has slowed or turned into decline.
From the expected reduction of cheaply mined uranium in Kazakhstan to planned construction of nuclear power plants globally, the changing economics of uranium have stoked hope in a few that the low prices will rise again.
Garling, the local organizer, said she hopes for an international showing so that U.S. producers can “enamor” their foreign counterparts with the national industry.
“We are kind of in our own little world in the U.S.,” she said.
The relatively small industry means that for many the symposium in Casper will be a reunion. A chance for the older generation to catch up and meet the newer players in the uranium field.
Proceeds from the symposium will feed the Central Wyoming chapter’s scholarship program, which provides $2,500 grants to students studying in mining related fields.
To date the chapter has given about $200,000 in scholarships to students and to local teachers in the Rocky Mountain Region, according to their website.
The U2017 Global Uranium Symposium goes from Aug. 21-25, at the Ramkota Hotel in Casper.