The Atomic Energy Act and other legislative actions authorized the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), predecessor agency to the DOE, to withdraw lands from the public domain and then lease them to private industry for mineral exploration and for development and mining of uranium and vanadium ore. A total of 25,000 acres of land in southwestern Colorado, northern New Mexico, and southeastern Utah was withdrawn from the public domain during the late 1940s and early 1950s.
In 1948, AEC included portions of these lands in 48 mineral leases that were negotiated with adjacent mine owners/operators. This early leasing program ended in 1962, yielding more than 1.2 million pounds of uranium and 6.8 million pounds of vanadium and generating $5.9 million in royalties to the federal government.
A second leasing program was initiated in 1974. The previously withdrawn lands were then divided into 44 lease tracts and offered to the domestic uranium industry through a competitive bid process. During the next 20 years, more than 1.7 million tons of ore was produced from the lease tracts, yielding approximately 6.5 million pounds of uranium and 33.4 million pounds of vanadium and generating $53 million in royalties to the federal government.
In 1994, all existing leases were allowed to expire to give DOE the opportunity to prepare a programmatic Environmental Assessment (EA) to determine if the leasing program should continue. Recognizing that the former leaseholders had a vested interest in their respective lease tracts, DOE authorized the leaseholders to access the lease tracts to maintain their existing operations or perform reclamation. The EA was finalized and approved in July 1995, and a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) was issued in August 1995 for the proposed action, which called for the continued leasing of DOE-managed lands for the exploration and production of uranium and vanadium ores.
In 1996, DOE reoffered the respective leases to the previous leaseholders. At that time, many former leaseholders opted out of the program, leaving just two leaseholders who chose to continue with their respective, multiple leases.
In 1994, the lands associated with the single lease tract located in New Mexico, that had been fully reclaimed, were restored to the public domain. In 1999, under similar circumstances, the lands associated with the five lease tracts located in Utah were also restored to the public domain.
In April 2008, DOE executed new 10-year lease agreements with the existing leaseholders for the 13 active lease tracts. In June 2008, DOE executed new 10-year lease agreements (through a competitive bid process) for 18 of the 19 inactive lease tracts; the remaining lease tract (C-JD-8A) received no bids and was placed on inactive status indefinitely. Subsequent to the execution of leases, lease tract C-JD-7A was incorporated into lease tract C-JD-7, and one of the 18 lease tracts mentioned above (C-SR-14) was relinquished back to DOE and was also placed on inactive status indefinitely. Click here for a summary of lease tract metrics.
As the Uranium Leasing Program continues, DOE will ensure that the public’s health and welfare and the environment are protected. DOE’s leaseholders are required to comply with all applicable statutes, rules, and regulations and are required to post reclamation performance bonds with DOE that are sufficient to fund the ultimate reclamation of their respective lease operations.