Mississippi County uranium exploration delayed because of recession

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

CHARLESTON, Mo. -- The recession has forced a Boulder, Colo., company to delay drilling wells in Mississippi County to get uranium.

Since 2008 Gustavson Operating Co. has been testing wells in Mississippi County. The company had completed the initial testing and was hoping to begin drilling in March. But it has delayed further drilling until the fall because of a lack of investors. Prices for uranium have dropped from about $130 a pound to less than $50.

Company president Dr. John Gustavson had planned to take his privately owned company public on the Canadian stock exchange, but that move has been delayed indefinitely because of the recession. Gustavson plans to continue using his money to fund the project.

"Most business sectors are suffering in the recession," Gustavson said. "But we're not standing still."

While the drilling is delayed, it could still be five years before actual mining of uranium begins, he said.

The company announced in September 2008 plans to invest $5 million in uranium sampling in the region. Gustavson met with landowners to educate them on the project.

In exchange for allowing Gustavson's company to sample existing wells and drill new ones, the landowners will receive geological results. Gustavson has speculated that the uranium on a landowner's property could bring in as much as $60 million, of which the owner would receive a 4 percent cut. About 20 landowners have allowed testing on their property of 18,000 acres scattered throughout the county.

Gustavson said once the mapping is complete he will deliver test results to landowners and in August notify those landowners whose property the company plans to drill.

To mine uranium in wells, water is injected into the deposits and forced back up. The water is then filtered to recover the ore.

The first phase, which included reviewing and mapping data from well testing done by the Department of Energy in 1978, was completed by mid-October. The second phase -- retesting of some of the wells that were tested 31 years ago and testing other wells -- began in December and was finished in early March.

The company has finished testing 66 wells, but it still plans to explore an area that might reveal faults that could have groundwater 100 to 300 feet below the surface. Gustavson said water there could also have uranium. Volcanic ash from millions of years ago left behind uranium deposits that were trapped in faults, he said.

Although the drilling has been delayed by six months, Mississippi County Commissioner Martin Lucas believes the project will jump-start the Mississippi County economy, which had a 9.2 percent unemployment rate in March and a 6.7 percent rate in March 2008.

"That means jobs for this area," Lucas said. "All we have here is agriculture jobs, and we're in need of something else. This entire operation isn't dead, and it will be a big boost for our economy."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

bblackwell@semissourian.com

388-3628

Pertinent addresses:

Charleston, MO

2265 Hillsdale Circle, Boulder, CO 80305

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