Uranium is an abundant element in the earth’s crust and occurs in economic concentrations in a variety of geological environments ranging from Precambrian (Proterozoic) in age to sediments of Tertiary age. Uranium occurs in geographic locations ranging from the cold of the high latitudes of Canada and Russia to the heat of the tropics of Australia, Africa and Brazil. It also is available as by-products from nuclear devices, from processing phosphate deposits, and from other sources.
Reserve estimates are based on geophysical logs and an estimate of the physical dimensions of the mineralization. Reserve needs are based on industry estimates for new reactors and historical usage of older reactors, which depends on the reactor design. With the present expansion in the use of nuclear power expected to continue for the next 100 years, the dependence on overseas oil and gas will be reduced. This, along with reducing the use of coal over the next 30 years, will have a significant, positive impact on easing global warming and a marked impact on world political stability.
We assess the potential problems inherent in predicting uranium reserves and in developing these reserves, both from a technical point of view and a societal perspective, which must be combined by any company engaged in uranium exploration and recovery. Environmental considerations involving ground-water sampling of area water wells prior to in situ recovery (ISR) are an integral part of every uranium-development project and depend on the geographical location of the deposit under consideration. In some areas, uranium occurs naturally in aquifers and this is the reason for the need for comprehensive background ground-water studies before uranium recovery operations are undertaken. Socio-economic issues have become an important part of uranium recovery projects today.
Balance of Interests
Non-political State and Federal interests must be balanced between the interests of national needs and security and local protection with economic development. Without this balance, damage to society would occur at a time when we can least afford it. Filtered through industry perspectives, we evaluate these issues both in terms of developing uranium within the U.S. sphere of influence and of managing the environmental responsibilities associated with it.
Summary of the 2014 EMD Uranium (Nuclear and Rare Earth) Committee Annual Report
During the past six months, the AAPG Energy Minerals Division’s Uranium (Nuclear and Rare Earth) Committee (UCOM) continued to monitor the expansion of the nuclear power industry and associated uranium exploration and development in the United States and overseas. Input for this 2014 Annual Report has also been provided by Henry M. Wise, P.G., (Vice-Chair: Industry) on industry activities in uranium, thorium, and rare-earth exploration; Steven Sibray, C.P.G., Vice Chair (University) on university activities in uranium, thorium, and rare-earth research; and by Robert Gregory, P.G., Vice Chair (Government) on governmental (State and Federal) activities in uranium, thorium, and rare-earth research, with special input from other members of the Advisory Group.
Thorium and rare earth activities are also updated in the Annual Report, which is a function approved by the UCOM in 2011. On the basis that they often occur together, we provide summary information on current thorium and rare-earth exploration and mining, and associated geopolitical activities.
The EMD Uranium (Nuclear Minerals) Committee is also pleased to remind the reader that the Jay M. McMurray Memorial Grant is awarded annually to a deserving student whose research involves uranium or nuclear fuel energy. This grant is made available through the AAPG Grants-In-Aid Program, and is endowed by the AAPG Foundation with contributions from his wife, Katherine McMurray, and several colleagues and friends. Those students having an interest in applying for the grant should contact the UCOM Chairman for further information and guidance. The biography of Mr. McMurray’s outstanding contributions to the uranium industry in the U.S. and overseas is presented (here).
The EMD co-sponsored Journal: Natural Resources Research has published the bi-annual Unconventional Energy Resources: 2013 Review in Volume 23, Issue 1, March, 2014 (more). The UCOM 2013 contribution begins on page 62 and is titled: Uranium, Thorium, and Associated Rare Earth Elements of Industrial Interest. The 2011 version (here); 2009 (here); and 2007 (here).
The AAPG-EMD Memoir 101: Energy Resources for Human Settlement in the Solar System and Earth's Future in Space was released in mid-2013. The EMD’s Uranium (Nuclear and REE Minerals) Committee and members of I2M Associates, LLC, contributed the final Chapter 9, entitled: Nuclear Power and Associated Environmental Issues in the Transition of Exploration and Mining on Earth to the Development of Off-World Natural Resources in the 21st Century.
Chapter 9 is presented here as a revised PDF version of the chapter. Chapter 9 is preceded by Chapter 9’s Table of Contents, and is followed by the author biographies of the chapter, the Memoir 101’s Press Release, the book’s Table of Contents, ordering information, book preface, and a copy of the front book cover (more). Forbes.com has highlighted Memoir 101 in a recent article emphasizing the coverage of Chapters 8 and 9 (more).
James Conca, Ph.D., a member of the Advisory Group of this UCOM, has also been contributing popular articles to Forbes.com on many other nuclear subjects. Some of these articles are listed below:
1. “Coal Doesn't Have To Die - We Can Make Furniture Out of It.” (here)
2. “Beyond Earth's Atmosphere - Energy Needs for Space Colonization” (here).
3. “Like We've Been Saying - Radiation Is Not A Big Deal” (here).
4. “How Deadly is Your Kilowatt? We Rank the Killer Energy Sources” (here).
5. “Where would YOU put our Nuclear Waste?” (here).
I2M Associates, LLC maintains a Web Portal that provides up-to-date articles and reviews of current and historical uranium (nuclear and rare-earth) related activities in the U.S. and around the world (more).
I2M also monitors the national and local press and publishes “Confronting Media & Other Bias Against Uranium Exploration & Mining, Nuclear Power, and Associated Environmental Issues,” (more).
Executive Summary from the 2014 Annual Report, April 5, 2014
- With world GDP rising by 3.6 percent per year, world energy use will grow by 56 percent between 2010 and 2040. Half of the increase is attributed to China and India.
- Nuclear is increasing by 2.5% per year, but renewables, including hydropower, are now the fastest-growing power generation sector, growing at about 4% per year.
- Non-hydro renewables are projected to increase by about 10% per year in the next several years almost doubling in the seven years, from 4% of global total power production in 2011 to about 8% in 2018. However, fossil fuels will continue to supply the majority of world energy use through 2040.
- Natural gas is the fastest growing fossil fuel, supported by increasing supplies of shale gas, particularly in the United States.
- China may be changing its energy mix where coal was previously projected to grow faster than petroleum consumption, mostly due to increases in China’s consumption of coal, to nuclear construction and to the slow growth in oil demand in OECD member countries.
- China is attempting to turn away from coal-fired plants that currently produce about 70% of China’s power production.
- Given current policies and regulations, worldwide energy-related carbon dioxide emissions are projected to increase 46 percent by 2040, reaching 45 billion metric tons in 2040.
- Japan will re-start many of their nuclear reactors with improved safety factors over the next few years because Japan has no realistic alternative.
- The current status of U.S. reactors include 100 reactors in full operation, 5 under construction, 25 in the planning/permitting stage, and 32 in permanent shut-down or retirement.
- China has 20 operating nuclear power plants (only 1% of total power produced), another 28 under construction, and brought 3 plants on-line in 2013. An additional 50 plants are in the various stages of planning and permitting.
- Current decreases in natural gas prices are leading to increases in the selection of natural gas for power generation.
- Coal use for power generation remains stable in some regions in the U.S. but is declining in other areas as natural gas prices decline and as construction of nuclear power plants increase.
- 2013 U.S. uranium production increased by 16% over that of 2012, the highest production since 1997.
- At present, 83% of U.S. nuclear fuel demand is met by foreign sources, such as Canada, Australia, and Kazakhstan.
- Uranium spot prices will likely remain around $35.00/pound U3O8 but upward pressure is growing because of the future demand from China, Japan, and new construction in Southeast Asia and elsewhere in the world.
- There are currently 20 uranium exploration and mining companies active in the U.S.
- Some mine closures are imminent, especially in Africa for higher cost mines.
- Virginia uranium mining is on hold by state-wide geopolitics and NIMBY reactions by local residents.
- Lawrence Livermore Lab researchers have pioneered the use of near-infrared spectrometry for analyzing the chemical composition of and detecting the origin of uranium and yellowcake samples to interdict smuggled yellowcake and uranium ore.
- China and India are considering the use of thorium technology in their nuclear-reactor designs to reduce the need for uranium over the next 25 years or less.
- Canada continues to produce world-class uranium deposits in the Athabasca Basin in northern Saskatchewan with record high uranium grades above 20% U3O8.
- Cameco’s Cigar Lake deposit in Athabasca Basin is expected to produce 18 million pounds of U3O8 by 2018 or about 9% of the world supply per year.
- Cameco also owns and operates the McArthur River Mine in the Athabasca Basin, which produces about 13% of the world’s supply of uranium.
- Australia’s Olympic Dam Mine is owned by BHP Billiton and produces about 6% of the world’s supply.
- Australia’s Ranger Mine is owned by Energy Resources of Australia produces about 5% of the world’s yearly uranium supply.
- Other mines in Australia also rank high in production, such as the Beverly and Honeymoon Mines, with the Four-Mile Mine nearing production.
- Kazakhstan mines produce about 36% of the world’s yearly supply, most of which goes to Russia and China.
- In Western Australia, Cauldron Energy is having success with its metallurgical testing of its Bennet Well deposit and is preparing for production with increasing U3O8 prices.
- Giant uranium producer, Rio Tinto, is having environmental problems with leaching-tank leaks at both the Ranger Mine in Northern Territory (Australia) and at its Rossing Mine in Namibia (SW Africa).
- Junior uranium companies worldwide are having problems maintaining equity capital with the low uranium price, even those with substantial resources.
- Argentina has a number of uranium deposits under development to fuel two existing nuclear reactors, with a third to go on-line in 2014.
- Greenland’s Kvanefjeld deposit in the Ilimaussac Complex located in Southern Greenland is under development by Greenland Minerals & Energy, Inc. and contains significant uranium, rare earths, and zinc. The local and national governments are supporting the project.
- Mongolia has substantial uranium resources. Russia mined the deposits until 1995, and then began again in 2008. Russia is negotiating to develop other deposits in the area but is having issues with the political risks involved within the government. The latter are attempting to improve its nuclear mining regulations and laws. French company AREVA has signed an agreement in October, 2013 to develop uranium mines and create AREVA Mines LLC, (66% AREVA & 34% MON-ATOM, the state-owned Mongolian nuclear company).
- In Africa, Gabon, Mauritania, and Zambia have emerged with viable uranium resources; but doing business and fieldwork in such remote regions is challenging, both financially and geopolitically.
- Tanzania has a number of developing uranium deposits. The East African Resources, Inc. (EAR) has arranged financing to fund further exploration on its Mabada deposit. Other deposits are under development by EAR with a South Korean group and by a Russian group (Uranium One).
- India is looking to Central Asia to meet its uranium needs, such as Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Mongolia, as well as Australia. India is also looking to build thorium reactors making use of their abundant monazite sands.
- Reports have surfaced that China now controls the market on up to 15 strategic minerals (e.g., rare-earth elements (REEs), graphite, etc.), while Russia also exerts major control on palladium, platinum group metals, and nickel, as well as uranium via Kazakhstan.
- Thorium is under serious study to replace uranium in reactors via Thor Energy and a consortium involving Westinghouse and others.
- China is increasing research funding to evaluate thorium in an attempt to turn away from coal-fired power plants, which makes up 70% of China’s power production, nuclear currently contributes only 1%. India also is looking to building thorium reactors by 2025.
- In the area of REEs, the U.S. (i.e., the State of Alaska) is helping to fund a rare-earth mine (Ucore Rare Metals, Inc.).
- In Canada, the government is considering providing funds to secure REE supplies via Pele Mountain Resources, Inc.
- In Europe, Tasman Metals, Ltd. could be a dedicated supplier of REEs to the European Union.
- The U.S. DOE has identified five elements of the REE group as the most critical: dysprosium, neodymium, terbium, europium, and yttrium. Concerns are that China may be only able to produce enough “heavy” REEs to supply its own needs.
- Ocean-Floor Mining permits by the United Nations continue to increase in the Pacific, Mid-Atlantic, and Indian Oceans.
- Ocean-Floor Resources may contain more than 27 billion tonnes of nodules consisting of around 290 million tonnes of copper, 340 million tonnes of nickel, and even larger resources of REEs.
If you would like to learn more about nuclear minerals (uranium, thorium, helium-3, etc), or to receive information on nuclear power, or on activities of the EMD Uranium Committee, join the EMD. If you are already an EMD Member, see “Members Only Page” for updates to the Annual and Mid-Year Reports on uranium exploration and recovery in the U.S. and overseas, for links to technical information on exploration and uranium recovery operations, and for related environmental regulations and associated issues.
For further information on this committee’s activities, go to the Members’ Only Web page or contact:
Michael D. Campbell,
Uranium (Nuclear Minerals) Committee
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