After starting mining at its Nichols Ranch ISR Uranium Project in April, Uranerz Energy Corporation has sent its first shipment of uranium-loaded resin to Cameco Resources' Smith Ranch uranium processing facilities for final processing into uranium concentrates.  Cameco's facility is about 45 miles south of Nichols Ranch.

The two uranium producers have a toll processing agreement that was signed in 2011. The agreement saved Uranerz from having to allot capital for a full processing plant on start up, but does not change any future plans they may have to install a full processing plant at a later date. On Cameco's side, spokesman Ken Vaughn told the Business Report, the deal allows them to utilize available capacity at their plant.

The mining operations at Nichols Ranch utilize the in-situ recovery mining process in which groundwater is fortified with oxygen, baking soda and carbon dioxide. The groundwater solution is injected underground into the uranium deposit within a confined aquifer. This solution dissolves the uranium that coats the sand grains before being pumped to the surface and sent to the Nichols Ranch plant through a network of pipelines.

At the plant, the solution flows through ion exchange columns where the uranium attaches to resin beads inside the columns. The uranium-loaded resin is then shipped to Cameco by truck where the uranium will be stripped from the resin, precipitated, dried, put into shipping drums and then transported to a conversion facility where it will be sold to Uranerz's customers. The barren resin will be returned to Nichols Ranch and re-used in the uranium recovery process.

"This marks the first of many resin shipments to Cameco's ISR processing facility," said Glenda Thomas, the company’s senior vice president of operations. "We now look forward to the next step of making our first delivery of uranium to the conversion facility where our customers will take ownership of the product."