Uranium Committee-EMD

If you would like to learn more about uranium, other nuclear and rare-earth minerals or about their use in industry, or on activities of the EMD Uranium Committee, join the EMD.

Michael D. Campbell Michael D. Campbell Chair 2009-2019 I2M Associates, LLC
Steven Sherman Sibray Steven Sherman Sibray Vice-Chair Academic 2016-2019 Univ. of Nebraska
Robert William Gregory Robert William Gregory Vice-Chair Government 2016-2019 Wyoming State Geological Survey
Henry M. Wise Henry M. Wise Vice-Chair Industry 2016-2019 (SWS Environmental Services)
Kevin T. Biddle MEMBER 2016-2019
Michael Allen Jacobs MEMBER 2016-2019
A. R. Renfro MEMBER 2016-2019 Independent
Samuel B. Romberger MEMBER 2016-2019 (Colorado School of Mines)
David Rowlands MEMBER 2016-2019
Introduction

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. Mining of uranium is driven by the market price of the “yellowcake” product produced (which is subsequently refined into fuel for reactors), and which is driven by the demands from nuclear power plants throughout the world.

Energy selection once was made on the basis of economics and safety. Today, it is based on political whims, and influenced by special interest groups that exhibit a poor understanding of the geoscience, engineering, and climate-friendly aspects and value of using nuclear power to generate safe and reliable electricity to the power grid in the U.S. and throughout the world.

Resources

Uranium reserve estimates in any particular deposit are based on geophysical logs and on an estimate of the lateral dimensions of the mineralization. Yearly 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 and domestic  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 will have a marked impact on world political stability.

UCOM 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 groundwater sampling of water wells prior to in situ recovery (ISR) are an integral part of every uranium-development project and depends 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 groundwater studies before uranium recovery operations are undertaken.

Socio-economic issues have become an important part of uranium recovery projects today but no harm has ever been reported by independent reviewers for aquifers that also include economic concentrations of uranium. This includes aquifers in Texas, Wyoming, New Mexico, and Colorado (more).

Balance of Interests

Non-political State and Federal interests must be balanced between the interests of national needs and security, and local environmental protection with economic development. Without this balance, damage to society would occur at a time when we can least afford it. Filtered through industry, university, and government perspectives as professional geoscientists with an inherent duty to minimize risk to the general public, UCOM evaluates these issues both in terms of developing uranium for use in generating energy in nuclear power plants in the U.S. and overseas, and in managing the environmental responsibilities associated with it.

Summary of the 2016 EMD Uranium (Nuclear and Rare Earths) Committee Annual Report
Committee Activities

The AAPG Energy Minerals Division’s Uranium (Nuclear and Rare Earths) Committee (UCOM) continues to monitor the activities within the nuclear power industry because it drives uranium exploration and development in the United States and overseas. Construction of new power plants and continued operation of the 99 existing nuclear power plants in the U.S., and 440 plants around the world, require large supplies of nuclear fuel (more). The uranium price is related to these demands and must be anticipated years ahead of actual sales, which in turn increases or decreases exploration as well as mining activities.

Input for this Annual Report has also been provided by Henry M. Wise, P.G., C.P.G. (UCOM Vice-Chair: Industry) on industry activities in uranium, thorium, and rare-earth exploration and mining; Steven Sibray, P.G., C.P.G., UCOM Vice-Chair (University) on university activities in uranium, thorium, and rare-earth research; and by Robert Gregory, P.G., UCOM 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.
Two new members have been added to the UCOM Advisory Group this past year. They are Kevin T. Biddle, Ph.D., ex-ExxonMobil Exploration VP (retired), and Michael A. Jacobs, P.G., Pioneer Natural Resources USA, Inc., Midland, Texas, and ex-Tenneco Uranium Inc.’s West Cole Uranium Mine in Texas, both of whom are Founding Members of the EMD in 1977.

As “nuclear minerals,” thorium and rare-earth elements (REE) activities have also been monitored during the period for this Annual Report, a function approved by the UCOM in 2011. On the basis that nuclear (thorium) and REE minerals often occur in deposits together with uranium, we provide summary information on current thorium and rare-earth exploration and mining, and associated geopolitical activities.

UCOM is also pleased to remind the reader as a regular feature of the UCOM reports that the Jay M. McMurray Memorial Grant is awarded annually to a deserving student(s) 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 Chair 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 (AAPG Foundation, 2015).

We are pleased to announce that Justin Drummond of Queens University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada was awarded the McMurray Memorial Grant in 2015 and 2016 (more).  Other recipients of the Grant since 2009 are presented in the following Table 1.

Table 1
Recipients of the Jay M. McMurray Memorial Grant from AAPG


2009
FORMATION OF PRECURSOR CALCIUM PHOSPHATE PHASES DURING CRYSTAL GROWTH OF APATITE AND THEIR ROLE ON THE UPTAKE OF HEAVY METALS AND RADIONUCLIDES Olaf Borkiewicz Miami University
2010 PRECIPITATION KINETICS OF AUTUNITE MINERALS: IMPLICATIONS FOR URANIUM IMMOBILIZATION Denise Levitan Virginia Tech University
2011 THE FORMATION MECHANISMS OF UNCONFORMITY-RELATED URANIUM DEPOSITS: INSIGHTS FROM NUMERICAL MODELING Tao Cui University of Windsor
2012 NOVEL NANOSEISMIC SURVEY TECHNIQUES IN TUNNELS AND MINES Chiara Mazzoni University of Strathclyde
2013 (U-TH)/HE AND U-PB DOUBLE DATING CONSTRAINTS ON THE INTERPLAY BETWEEN THRUST DEFORMATION AND BASIN DEVELOPMENT, SEVIER FORELAND BASIN, UTAH Edgardo Pujols University of Texas at Austin
2014 ANTHROPOGENICALLY ENHANCED MOBILIZATION OF NATURALLY OCCURRING URANIUM LEADING TO GROUNDWATER CONTAMINATION Jason Nolan University of Nebraska-Lincoln
2015 GEOCHEMISTRY AND DIAGENESIS OF GROUNDWATER CALCRETES: IMPLICATIONS FOR CALCRETE-HOSTED URANIUM MINERALIZATION, WESTERN AUSTRALIA Justin Drummond Queen's University
2016 GEOCHEMISTRY AND DIAGENESIS OF GROUNDWATER CALCRETES, WESTERN AUSTRALIA: IMPLICATIONS FOR CALCRETE-HOSTED URANIUM MINERALIZATION Justin Drummond Queen's University
Publications and Nuclear Outreach

The EMD co-sponsored Journal: Natural Resources Research has published the bi-annual Unconventional Energy Resources: 2015 Review in Volume 24, Issue 4, December, 2015 (more). The UCOM 2015 contribution begins on page 450 and is titled: Energy Competition in the Uranium, Thorium, and Rare Earth Industries in the U.S. and the World: 2015. Earlier versions include: the 2013 version (here); 2011 (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 (more). 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 (more).  Forbes.com has highlighted Memoir 101 emphasizing the coverage of Chapters 8 and 9 (more).

James Conca, Ph.D., a member of the UCOM Advisory Group, continues to contribute popular articles to Forbes.com on many nuclear subjects. To review the chronological list of Dr. Conca’s contributions to date, see (here).

Last year, we modified the format of the UCOM report to provide greater coverage and timely information in a more concise format. To accomplish this, within the UCOM, we examine certain topics as we have in the past, such as the driving forces behind the current uranium industry conditions and activities, e.g., nuclear power plant construction, yellowcake prices, data on reserves and exploration, and especially new discoveries. To support this coverage, we draw on the I2M Web Portal, which provides references and reviews of technical reports and media articles with a focus on:  a) uranium exploration (more); b) mining, processing, and marketing as well as on topics related to: c) uranium recovery technology; d) nuclear-power economics, reactor design, and operational aspects that drive uranium prices (more); and e) related environmental and societal issues involved in such current topics as energy resource selection and climate change (more), since all have direct or indirect impact on the costs, mining, and utilization of uranium, thorium, and rare-earth fields. This also includes reviews of the current developments in research on thorium (more), helium-3 (more), and fusion research (more), and environmental and societal issues related to nuclear waste (more). Current research developments in the rare-earth commodities are also covered (more). 

For a review of the coverage of the various sources of information on energy and associated topics, in the form of almost 4,500 abstracts and links to current technical reports and media articles from sources in the U.S. and around the world, see the Index to all fields covered in the I2M Web Portal (here). The references have been cited in the form of reference links and full citations and are listed in the References section at the end of UCOM reports combined with a list for additional reading on the nature and impact of radiation, perceived or real (more).
The principal objective of the UCOM report each year is to provide a summary of the important developments in uranium exploration and production of yellowcake or U3O8, (and the economics that drive the uranium prices in response to plant demand) to create fuel for the 99 reactors (and those planned, under construction, or unshuttered), and the storage of their waste products in the U.S. and that of the 455 and expanding number of nuclear power plants worldwide. We also include discussions on the status of thorium and rare-earth exploration (and development) because both are often encountered in some types of uranium deposits and which impact the economics of recovering all three products.

Executive Summary
  • The Jay M. McMurray Memorial Grant Program administered by the AAPG for research on the topic of uranium has been awarded each year to a deserving student since 2009.
  • Uranium price is currently about $28.00 / pound U3O8 , which is the lowest price in 10 years, but the long-term contract price has not changed since July, 2015,  at $40.00 /pound U3O8.
  • Uranium price is expected to rise starting during the 4th Quarter, 2016 to about $40.00 / pound U3O8.
  • Total U.S. production for 2015 was 3.3 million pounds U3O8,  32% lower than 2014, the lowest production since 2005.
  • Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Alaska all have uranium deposits that are being investigated and may be mineable.
  • Total U.S. uranium drilling in 2015 amounted to 13% less than in 2014.
  • Uranium is produced by open-pit and underground methods (42%), 51% by in-situ mining method, and 7% recovered as byproduct.
  • Wyoming uranium mines are preparing for the price rise by producing and storing yellowcake, the Powder River Basin having 12 mines in various stages of production, 7 of which are currently operating.
  • South Dakota and Nebraska have a mine each that are ready for production.
  • Texas has 3 in-situ mines, with others being permitted.
  • Increased mergers and acquisitions have been underway over the past few years in the U.S. and elsewhere.
  • Uranium One has generally divested its holdings of U.S. uranium properties, but has maintained royalties in some cases.
  • U.S. production of uranium for the 1st Quarter, 2016 was up 0.4% from 4th Quarter, 2015 but down 46% from 1st Quarter, 2015, all to be expected because of low uranium prices.
  • U.S. uranium was produced during the 1st Quarter, 2016 at 6 facilities, 2 more than 4th Quarter, 2015 in Utah, Wyoming, and in Colorado (start-up planning).
  • By the end of 2015, other than those in production in the U.S., one mine was on standby, one in development, 6 under permitting and licensing, one under construction, and 3 in restoration.
  • The 2015 U.S. production contributed only about 7% of the U.S. market requirements to fuel U.S. civilian nuclear reactors, with 93% of the required uranium supplies imported from overseas suppliers.
  • New uranium discoveries have been reported in Canada, Peru, Uruguay, Paraguay, India, Iran, and Tanzania, some of which are nearing production.
  • Multiple major uranium discoveries in Canada around the periphery of the Athabasca Basin consist of very high grade ore grades along a significant strike distance, but at depths of up to 700 meters (2,100 feet) bgs.
  • Major resources are available in Australia with potential for additional resources in Western Australia, Northern Territory, and South Australia and Queensland, but anti-nuclear adversaries have made inroads with the general public in Australia in the past few years, but which is expected to be dispelled in the near future during national elections.
  • Foreign supplies of yellowcake to the American market comes from mines in Canada and Australia (47%), from Kazakhstan, Russia, and Uzbekistan (37%), and from Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Malawi, Namibia, Niger, and South Africa (10%), with 7% coming within the U.S.
  • U.S. currently has 99 nuclear reactors in operation, with up to 6 being slated for shuttering in response to market forces involving low-priced natural gas and coal, but with 5 new reactors currently under construction.
  • U.S. nuclear power construction, both Model AP-1000 or upgrades and SMRs, will increase substantially above 19%  if:  a) electricity demand increases as a result of improving economic conditions in the U.S.,  b) regulations are amended to facilitate nuclear power in the U.S., c) natural gas prices rise substantially, and d) coal production and use continues to decline.
  • Estimates from government and industry forecast that fossil fuels will still account for 78% of the U.S. energy used through 2040, with natural gas usage increasing at a rate of about 2% per year.
  • EIA portends that nuclear power will grow by 2.3% during the period between 2012 and 2040, but allows for a possible construction expansion rate of 4 to 6% per year, which includes SMR entry into the industry.
  • TVA is attempting to mix energy sources in order to achieve lower carbon emissions by adding SMRs with wind and solar systems.
  • U.S. nuclear power construction, both Model AP-1000 or upgrades and SMRs, will increase substantially above 19%  if:  a) electricity demand increases as a result of improving economic conditions in the U.S.,  b) regulations are amended to facilitate nuclear power in the U.S., c) natural gas prices rise substantially, and d) coal production and use continues to decline.
  • Global energy electricity generation will grow by about 70% between 2012 and 2040.
  • Approximately 440 nuclear reactors are currently in operation in the world, with 65 under construction, 173 ordered/planned, and 337 proposed.
  • China, U.S., and India will remain top 3 coal-consuming countries, amounting to more than 70% of world coal use through 2014, but including SE Asia coal use.
  • China revised estimates in planning for increasing nuclear power production by 60% during the period of 2012 to 2040, with 20 plants currently under construction.
  • Post-2011 tsunami Japan is re-permitting most of their original nuclear power plants and all but two such plants will return to operation by 2020.
  • Russia currently has 10 nuclear power plants under construction.
  • Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) are under development by as many as 15 companies in the U.S. and overseas.
  • Korea will experience a sizable increase in nuclear generating capacity.
  • Saudi Arabia and UAE have multiple nuclear plants under construction.
  • Canada and Germany may phase out nuclear power, but Sweden recently reversed their opposition.
  • Energy-related CO2 emissions are projected to increase by 34% from growth in Non-OECD (major companies) from relying heavily on fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, wood, etc.).
  • Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage facility may still be completed, but even with the retirement of the Senior Senator from Nevada, opposition exists from left-wing political intractability.
  • Other waste storage sites are under review.
  • Commercial renewable energy systems continue to grow in popularity in remote regions, but still receive substantial subsidies so true costs of electricity are often unknown, especially when a back-up power grid is required for overall grid stability.
  • Hydropower, such as classical dams and pumped-storage power systems, is showing and increase in the energy mix in some states.
  • Al least 9 countries have important thorium resources that may be available, if needed.
  • Research continues on using thorium in nuclear reactors.
  • Rare-earth resources are now known in 35 countries, but 42% are owned /controlled by China.
  • China reduced production of REE a few years ago but in 2015, China increased production by 15% to 95,000 tons, which consists of 86% of the world’s total rare earths.
  • China also has a highly developed supply-chain for rare-earth productions and separation.
  • China conducts a major effort in research and development regarding manufacturing involving rare-earth products, considering the effort important to its economy.
  • University research in uranium continues to decrease because of the long-term slump of prices and general availability of funding. When prices rise, research funding will return to the U.S. universities, the U.S. Geological Survey, and various state geological surveys.
  • Atmospheric radiation is now being monitored on a regular basis by students using large weather balloons and the reported levels are surprising.
Introduction

The emphasis of this EMD Uranium Annual Report  covers the recent and forecasted uranium (yellowcake) prices and how the uranium industry is responding to the current economic conditions in exploration and mine development, and to the expectations for the future. Thorium also is an important component to many rare-earth/uranium deposits and although thorium is not currently used as fuel to produce electricity, it is being considered as a fuel component by numerous companies in the U.S. and overseas. In some cases, rare-earth deposits also contain uranium in recoverable amounts and so the rare-earth prices are also important considerations in developing some deposits into viable, economic ventures.

The uranium market is guided to a large extent by expectations displaced years ahead by today’s nuclear power-plant operations, anticipated construction, and plant shuttering and retirement plans. As discussed previously (EMD UCOM 2015 Annual Report (more) and EMD UCOM 2015 Mid-Year Report (more)), energy competition between nuclear and coal, natural gas, as well as with renewable energy projects are based on the cost to produce electricity and on the impact on the environment, complicated by the federal government’s subsidizing and promoting wind and solar energy projects, all within a complex, transitional energy framework in the U.S. today (more).

To this framework, the concept of “informed consent of the public,” fostered by the federal government years ago pandering to special interests, has become polarized in energy selection by political influences that trump rational selection based on economic and environmental factors in the U.S. and other countries.

Figure 1 – Nuclear Power Plant License Renewal Process (NRC (2016))
Figure 1 – Nuclear Power Plant License Renewal Process (NRC (2016))
This results in unnecessary delays in the permitting process under the guise of opposing reviews introduced during public interaction, but ignoring informed scientific information and harboring NIMBY or generalized anti-nuclear intentions (see Figure 1).

Nuclear energy has been vetted over more than 5 decades, especially after each incident of environmental concern, and 99 nuclear plants, with more under construction, must be fueled. Uranium company exploration activities are influenced by uranium prices, and especially in developing mining operations.   Low-cost operations such as in-situ mining or high-grade mining of underground or shallow open-pit operations can produce yellowcake while prices are low but higher cost operations cannot operate at a profit. 

At present, about 42% of uranium comes from conventional mines (open pit and underground) about 51% from in situ leach, and 7% is recovered as a by-product from other mineral extraction. In total this mined uranium accounts for 84% of annual nuclear power station requirements (more). Either short-term spot prices or long-term contracted prices control supply according to the anticipated demand coming from utilities or owners of nuclear power plants.

For the full 2016 Annual UCOM report, see (more) or via the Activity & Reports tab above for previous reports.

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, sign up for the EMD or contact:

Michael D. Campbell, P.G., P.H.
Chair 
Uranium (Nuclear and REE) Committee 
Office: 713-807-0021

Committee Reports

 
Desktop /Portals/0/docs/emd/reports/annual-meeting/2016-06-18/2016-06-18-EMD-AnnualMeeting-Committee-Uranium.pdf?pdfwidth=306&pdfheight=400&subpixels=true&page=1&format=jpg&width=100&height=100&mode=crop&anchor=topcenter&quality=90&encoder=freeimage&progressive=true&trim.threshold=255 31138
 
Desktop /Portals/0/docs/emd/reports/mid-year/2015-11-19/2015-12-29-EMDMidYearCommitteeUranium.pdf?pdfwidth=306&pdfheight=400&subpixels=true&page=1&format=jpg&width=100&height=100&mode=crop&anchor=topcenter&quality=90&encoder=freeimage&progressive=true&trim.threshold=255 28857
 
Desktop /Portals/0/docs/emd/reports/annual-meeting/2015-05-30/2015-05-30-EMD-AnnualMeeting-Committee-Uranium.pdf?pdfwidth=306&pdfheight=400&subpixels=true&page=1&format=jpg&width=100&height=100&mode=crop&anchor=topcenter&quality=90&encoder=freeimage&progressive=true&trim.threshold=255 28223
 
Desktop /Portals/0/docs/emd/reports/mid-year/2014-11-18/2014-11-18-EMDMidYearCommitteeUranium.pdf?pdfwidth=306&pdfheight=400&subpixels=true&page=1&format=jpg&width=100&height=100&mode=crop&anchor=topcenter&quality=90&encoder=freeimage&progressive=true&trim.threshold=255 28860
 
Desktop /Portals/0/docs/emd/reports/annual-meeting/2014-04-05/2014-04-05-EMDAnnualMeetingCommitteeUranium.pdf?pdfwidth=306&pdfheight=400&subpixels=true&page=1&format=jpg&width=100&height=100&mode=crop&anchor=topcenter&quality=90&encoder=freeimage&progressive=true&trim.threshold=255 27798
 
Desktop /Portals/0/docs/emd/reports/mid-year/2013-11-21/2013-11-21-EMD-Mid-YearMeetingCommitteeUranium.pdf?pdfwidth=306&pdfheight=400&subpixels=true&page=1&format=jpg&width=100&height=100&mode=crop&anchor=topcenter&quality=90&encoder=freeimage&progressive=true&trim.threshold=255 28057
 
Desktop /Portals/0/docs/emd/reports/annual-meeting/2013-05-18/2013-05-18-EMDAnnualMeetingCommitteeUranium.pdf?pdfwidth=306&pdfheight=400&subpixels=true&page=1&format=jpg&width=100&height=100&mode=crop&anchor=topcenter&quality=90&encoder=freeimage&progressive=true&trim.threshold=255 27789
 
Desktop /Portals/0/docs/emd/reports/mid-year/2012-11-29/2012-11-29-EMD-Mid-YearMeetingCommitteeUranium.pdf?pdfwidth=306&pdfheight=400&subpixels=true&page=1&format=jpg&width=100&height=100&mode=crop&anchor=topcenter&quality=90&encoder=freeimage&progressive=true&trim.threshold=255 28042
 
Desktop /Portals/0/docs/emd/reports/annual-meeting/2012-04-21/2012-04-21-EMDAnnualMeetingCommitteeUranium.pdf?pdfwidth=306&pdfheight=400&subpixels=true&page=1&format=jpg&width=100&height=100&mode=crop&anchor=topcenter&quality=90&encoder=freeimage&progressive=true&trim.threshold=255 27752
 
Desktop /Portals/0/docs/emd/reports/mid-year/2011-12-12-EMDMidYearCommitteeUranium.pdf?pdfwidth=306&pdfheight=400&subpixels=true&page=1&format=jpg&width=100&height=100&mode=crop&anchor=topcenter&quality=90&encoder=freeimage&progressive=true&trim.threshold=255 29375
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