U.S. uranium mines produced 0.7 million pounds of triuranium octoxide (U3O8), or uranium concentrate , in 2018, 37% less than in 2017. The production of uranium concentrate is the first step in the nuclear fuel production process, preceding the conversion of U3O8 into UF6, to enable uranium enrichment, then fuel pellet fabrication, and finally fuel assembly fabrication. Six in-situ-leach (ISL) mining operations produced solutions containing uranium in 2018, the same number as in 2017.
Total production of U.S. uranium concentrate in 2018 was 1.6 million pounds U3O8, 33% less than in 2017, from seven facilities: one mill in Utah (White Mesa Mill) and six in-situ leaching (ISL) plants in Nebraska and Wyoming (Crow Butte Operation, Lost Creek Project, Nichols Ranch ISR Project, Ross CPP, Smith Ranch-Highland Operation and Willow Creek Project).
Total shipments of uranium concentrate from U.S. mill and ISL plants were 1.5 million pounds U3O8 in 2018, 35% less than in 2017. U.S. producers sold 1.5 million pounds of uranium concentrate in 2018 at a weighted average price of $32.51 per pound.
At the end of 2018, the White Mesa Mill in Utah was operating with a capacity of 2,000 short tons of material per day. Shootaring Canyon Uranium Mill in Utah and Sweetwater Uranium Project in Wyoming were on standby with a total capacity of 3,750 short tons of material per day. IN Wyoming, one heap leach plant is in the planning stages (Sheep Mountain).
At the end of 2018, five U.S. uranium ISL plants were operating with a combined capacity of 10.9 million pounds U3O8 per year (Crow Butte Operation in Nebraska and Lost Creek Project, Nichols Ranch ISR Project, Ross CPP, and the Smith Ranch-Highland Operation in Wyoming). Four ISL plants were on standby as of the end of 2018, and six ISL plants were planned for four states: New Mexico, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming.
Total employment in the U.S. uranium production industry was 372 full-time person-years in 2018, a decrease of 12% from the 2017 total and the lowest level since 2003. Exploration employment was 27 person-years, a 46% decrease from the 2017 total. Mining employment was 110 person-years, a 19% decrease from 2017. Reclamation employment increased 38% to 138 person-years from 2017 to 2018. Wyoming accounted for 53% of total employment in the U.S. uranium production industry in 2018, down slightly from 58% of total employment in 2017.
Total expenditures for land, exploration, drilling, production, and reclamation were $109 million in 2018, 11% less than in 2017 and the lowest total since 2004. Expenditures for U.S. uranium production, including facility expenses, were the largest category of expenditures in 2018 at $66 million, down by 16% from the 2017 level and the lowest total since 2006.
At the end of 2018, reported estimated uranium reserves were 43 million pounds U3O8 at a maximum forward cost of up to $30 per pound. At up to $50 per pound, reported estimated reserves were 174 million pounds U3O8. At up to $100 per pound, reported estimated reserves were 353 million pounds U3O8. These reserves are a fraction of likely total domestic uranium reserves because we did not include inferred resources that were not reported because of a lack of cost estimates or because the reserves were not located on actively-managed properties.
The uranium reserve estimates presented here cannot be compared with the much larger historical data set of uranium reserves published in the July 2010 report U.S. Uranium Reserves Estimates. EIA estimated those reserves based on data we collected and data the National Uranium Resource Evaluation (NURE) program developed. The NURE is located in Grand Junction, Colorado, and is operated by the U.S. Department of Energy and predecessor organizations. The EIA data include about 200 uranium properties that have reserves, collected from 1984 through 2002. The NURE data include about 800 uranium properties with reserves, developed from 1974 through 1983. Although the data collected on the Form EIA-851A survey covers a much smaller set of properties than the earlier EIA data and NURE data, we believe that within its scope, the Form EIA-851A data provide more reliable estimates of the uranium recoverable at each forward cost than the estimates derived from 1974 through 2002. In particular, because the NURE data have not been comprehensively updated in many years and are no longer considered a current data source.