'Energy Basins' Give Boost to Uranium Search
11 June 2012 | With increased uranium demand - due to the projected growth in nuclear energy and dwindling supplies from secondary sources - new exploration models for uranium deposits are increasingly being debated.
To present new data and results of investigations in sedimentary basins, over 80 experts from 28 IAEA Member States gathered in Vienna from 29 May to 1 June in a Technical Meeting on the Origin of Sandstone Uranium Deposits: A Global Perspective.
“Large sedimentary basins which host accumulations oil and gas as well as coal deposits support the major energy requirement of the world. These basins are becoming targets for discovering new deposits of uranium associated with sandstones, which could significantly increase the availability of low-cost uranium,” explained Mr Harikrishnan Tulsidas, IAEA Nuclear Technology Specialist and Scientific Secretary of the meeting.
“In the meeting we were asked to consider recent advances to understand the origin of sandstone uranium deposits and to see how this knowledge can be useful in exploration and optimizing production, and to safely manage the mine wastes and remediation after the production closes in the area”, he said.
Sandstone uranium mineralization is the most abundant style that can be found in every continent. About a quarter of the world’s identified uranium resources are of this type and are distributed in over 550 deposits reported in some 40 countries. These resources currently contribute to a major share of the world production of uranium.
Origin of sandstone uranium deposits is closely related to the sources of uranium, the solutions that mobilize uranium, and the precipitating action of various agents. Hydrogen sulphide produced by bacteria, hydrocarbon fluids of oil-gas basins or reductants related to coal deposits have been proposed as agents responsible for a number of important sandstone uranium deposit. Several new discoveries of sandstone uranium deposits could be possible in many parts of the world.
At the meeting, a number of experts presented data on new approaches to exploration using geophysical techniques. Socio-economic and environmental aspects of developing such resources were also discussed.
“While the known sandstone uranium provinces of Kazakhstan, USA and Australia were discussed in detail, the meeting was successful in opening discussion on less known deposits and occurrences from Algeria, Argentina, Egypt, India, Jordan, Malawi, Paraguay and Tanzania”, said Mr Michel Cuney, Research Director, French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), who chaired the meeting.
“Many new discoveries could be expected from these places as exploration campaigns are increasing with the involvement of a number of companies”, he added.
Uranium mining from sandstone deposits, due to its suitability for In Situ Leaching (ISL), is low-cost and could be used in production faster than some of the other deposit types. Sandstone uranium deposits could also be developed by conventional open-pit and underground mining methods if the ISL option is found to be unsuitable.
Many of the uranium projects, which have been launched recently or are expected to start soon, are based on sandstone deposits.
The IAEA provides information on the status of world uranium production and projections of uranium requirements. Member States with uranium production and/or nuclear power programmes use this information for their planning and policy making.
Contact: Mr. H. Tulsidas, IAEA Nuclear Fuel Cycle and Materials Section