Colorado uranium producer lays off third of Utah workforce

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Colorado energy company laid off a third of its workforce in southeast Utah, primarily at the last conventional uranium mill operating in the United States.

Energy Fuels Inc. laid off 24 of its 79 employees, most of them at the White Mesa Mill, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

The mill near Ute Mountain Ute tribal lands south of Blanding was built in the early 1980s and purchased by Energy Fuels in 2012.

Low global uranium prices have pushed the mill to primarily process low-grade radioactive waste from across the country as well as vanadium, a metal used in mechanical parts.

“We are needing to conserve our financial resources as commodity prices have remained below the cost of production,” said Curtis Moore, an executive at the company incorporated in Canada.

Energy Fuels operates mines in Utah's San Juan County, including the Daneros Mine and the La Sal uranium mine complex. Those operations are idle, along with its Canyon Mine near Grand Canyon National Park.

Republican U.S. Rep. John Curtis of Utah spoke Tuesday on the floor of the House of Representatives in support of his constituents in San Juan County, the poorest in the state.

Curtis and Moore blamed foreign subsidies and state-run companies abroad for undercutting American uranium companies.

About 20% of U.S. electricity is generated by nuclear power, but in recent years, more than 92% of uranium fuel used in nuclear reactors has been imported from other countries, including Canada, Australia, Russia and Kazakhstan.

U.S. companies are projected to produce almost no uranium in 2020, Moore said.

Energy Fuels and uranium company Ur-Energy last year petitioned the Trump administration to require U.S. nuclear power plants to source one-fifth of their uranium fuel from domestic sources, arguing that an overreliance on foreign suppliers posed a national security risk.

Nuclear power producers and environmental groups opposed the petition, and the administration rejected the request in July.