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, even from sea water, 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 (aka anti-nuclear clubs, commercial environmental 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.
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
In the U.S., non-political State and Federal interests must be balanced between the interests of national needs, 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 members evaluate these issues both in terms of developing uranium for use in generating electricity in nuclear power plants in the U.S. and overseas, and in managing the environmental responsibilities associated with it.
Summary of the 2019 EMD Uranium (Nuclear and Rare Earths) Committee Annual Report
Committee Annual Report
The AAPG Energy Minerals Division’s Uranium (Nuclear and Rare Earths) Committee (UCOM) monitors the uranium industry activities and the nuclear power industry because that drives uranium exploration and development in the United States and overseas. UCOM also monitors our moves toward developing off-world resources, while also monitoring media bias against developing our natural resources and the challenges of climate change (more) as we find new uses for oil and natural gas as feedstocks over the decades ahead, for other than just burning, like coal (more). But even coal may have important contributions after all, other than for burning (more) and so could oil and gas (more).
Input for Annual Reports has been provided by:
Henry M. Wise, P.G., C.P.G. (Vice-Chair: Industry) on industry activities in uranium, thorium, and rare-earth exploration and mining;
Steven Sibray, P.G., C.P.G., Vice Chair (University) on university activities in uranium, thorium, and rare-earth research; and
Robert Gregory, P.G., Vice Chair (Government) on governmental (State and Federal) activities in uranium, thorium, and rare-earth research.
Special input and reviews are also provided by members of the Advisory Group and Special Consultants to the UCOM (more).
In these reports, we also provide summary information on current thorium and rare-earth exploration and mining and associated geopolitical activities as part of the UCOM monitoring of “nuclear minerals,” thorium and rare-earth elements (REE) activities (a function approved by the UCOM in 2011). Uranium and thorium include REE minerals in deposits in the U.S. and around the world (more).
A UCOM teleconference was held February 20, 2019 that included all three Vice-Chairs and appointed members of the UCOM Advisory Group and Special Consultants (see Agenda (here)). For the purpose of reminding the members of UCOM, the Chairman reviewed the stated objectives of UCOM and received consensus. Also discussed was the renewed emphasis on the economics of mining and marketing uranium, both on Earth and off-world. The current status of Section 232 was also discussed regarding its possible impact on the U.S. uranium mining industry (more).
On other matters, the AIPG Texas Section has invited UCOM members and members of EMD to join them in sponsoring and participating in a field trip to visit the in-situ uranium mining and processing operations located in south Texas when production resumes (circa 2020-2021). For further information, see the AIPG announcements (more).
UCOM is also pleased to remind the reader that the Jay 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. 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, 2019). We are pleased to announce that Oyeleye Adeboye was awarded the McMurray Memorial Grant in 2019. Other recipients of the Grant since 2009 are presented in Table 1.
Table 1: Recipients of the Jay M. McMurray Memorial Grant from AAPG Foundation
FORMATION OF PRECURSOR CALCIUM PHOSPHATE PHASES DURING CRYSTAL GROWTH OF APATITE AND THEIR ROLE ON THE UPTAKE OF HEAVY METALS AND RADIONUCLIDES
PRECIPITATION KINETICS OF AUTUNITE MINERALS: IMPLICATIONS FOR URANIUM IMMOBILIZATION
•irginia Tech University
THE FORMATION MECHANISMS OF UNCONFORMITY- RELATED URANIUM DEPOSITS: INSIGHTS FROM NUMERICAL MODELING
University of Windsor
NOVEL NANOSEISMIC SURVEY TECHNIQUES IN TUNNELS AND MINES
University of Strathclyde
(U-TH)/HE AND U-PB DOUBLE DATING CONSTRAINTS ON THE INTERPLAY BETWEEN THRUST DEFORMATION AND BASIN DEVELOPMENT, SEVIERFORELAND BASIN, UTAH
University of Texas
ANTHROPOGENICALLY ENHANCED MOBILIZATION OF NATURALLY OCCURRING URANIUM LEADING TO GROUNDWATER CONTAMINATION
University of Nebraska - Lincoln
GEOCHEMISTRY AND DIAGENESIS OF GROUNDWATER CALCRETES: IMPLICATIONS FOR CALCRETE-HOSTED URANIUM MINERALIZATION,WESTERN AUSTRALIA
GEOCHEMISTRY AND DIAGENESIS OF GROUNDWATER CALCRETES, WESTERN AUSTRALIA: IMPLICATIONS FOR CALCRETE-HOSTED URANIUM MINERALIZATION
RECONSTRUCTION OF CRETACEOUS PROVENANCES OF ABEOKUTA GROUP OF THE EASTERN DAHOMEY BASIN SOUTHWESTERN NIGERIA BASED ON THE FIRST URANIUM-LEAD DETRITAL ZIRCON GEOCHRONOLOGY
Fadehan Tolulope Abosede
University of Lagos
NOT AWARDED by AAPG FOUNDATION
GEOCHEMICAL EVALUATION OF THE MISSISSIPPIAN LIMESTONE, ANADARKO SHELF, OKLAHOMA
Oklahoma State University
UCOM Publications and Nuclear Outreach
The EMD co-sponsored Journal: Natural Resources Research has published the bi-annual Unconventional Energy Resources: 2017 Review. Chairman Campbell, Henry M. Wise Vice-Chair (Industry), and James R. Conca (Advisory Group) of UCOM served as co-authors in the section entitled: Uranium, Thorium, and Rare-Earth Elements: Availability and Development – Time for Recovery. (Article, see PDF pages: 35-50). Earlier versions of the NRR articles include: the 2015 version (here); 2013 version (here); 2011 (here); 2009 (here); and 2007 (here).
The UCOM Chairman was asked by the EMD EXCOM to assemble a historical account of EMD from its beginning before 1977 to 2018 for publication in AAPG’s The Explorer. The Chairman is a Founding Member of EMD (1977), Past President of EMD (2010-2011), and has been Chairman of UCOM since 2004. With input from older and younger members of EMD, the two-part article has been summarized in AAPG’s The Explorer:
Part 1 covers EMD activities from 1968 through mid-2000, with links (here). December Issue.
Part 2 covers the years 2000 through 2018, as published (here), w/links (here). January Issue.
For the original version (Parts 1 and 2), with links, (here).
As a reminder, 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 Consultants, LLC, contributed the final Chapter 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 and associated energy topics. To review the chronological list of Dr. Conca’s Forbes’ contributions to date, see (here).
UCOM Report Format
UCOM modified the format of the UCOM report a few years ago to provide greater coverage and more timely information in a concise reporting format. To accomplish this, the UCOM members examine certain topics as we have in the past, such as the issues behind the current uranium mining industry conditions and activities, and their driving forces, e.g., yellowcake prices, nuclear power plant construction, uranium reserves and world-wide exploration, especially new uranium discoveries. To support this coverage, the I2M Web Portal was upgraded and improved, both in response speed and layout, plus it now allows multi-word searches, whereas the previous version only permitted one-word searches (more). The UCOM can now focus on issues covered by the I2M Web Portal by conducting and presenting search-results that are automatically updated even after we have published the UCOM reports each year, so each report is in some parts dynamic in nature and timely.
We draw on the I2M Web Portal database, which contains (as of November, 2019) almost 8,800 abstracts/reviews and links to current technical reports and media articles from sources in the U.S. and around the world, (see the Index to all commodity and associated fields covered in the I2M Web Portal (here)). The primary emphasis of the I2M Web Portal also reflects the interests and objectives of UCOM (more).
UCOM reports will be further simplified and reduced in length in the future. Beginning with this report, text reductions will be augmented by adding additional links to provide the reader with follow-on reading, should the reader wish to have additional information on the subject. It should be noted here that many links will provide direct Internet sources as well as search results from the I2M Web Portal that include summaries of the article(s) cited in the text.
Serving as a summary, the UCOM focus generally covers:
- a) uranium exploration (more);
- b) uranium mining and processing (more), and marketing,
- c) uranium recovery technology (more);
- d) nuclear-power economics (more),
- e) reactor designs (more),
- f) operational aspects that drive uranium prices (more);
- g) factors affecting plant shutdowns (more), and
- h) related environmental and societal issues involved in such current topics as energy resource selection and climate change (more). The latter have direct and indirect impact on the costs, mining, and utilization of uranium, thorium, and rare-earth resources.
UCOM also monitor, assess, and report on the status of thorium and rare-earth exploration (and development) because both are often encountered in some types of hard-rock uranium deposits, and the presence of both impact the economics of recovering uranium and rare earths, often with revenue credit for thorium concentrates.
Our coverage also includes summaries of reviews of the current developments in research on:
- a) thorium (more),
- b) helium-3 (more), and fusion research (more), and
- c) nuclear used fuel (waste) storage and handling (more).
- d) current research developments in the rare-earths (more).
The nature and impact of radiation, perceived and real, have been emphasized over the years from a variety of anti-mining and nuclear-power adversaries. In an attempt to educate AAPG members and the general public, we have been addressing these important issues since the beginning in 2004, reporting on general public’s fear of radiation (e.g., 2005) while continuing to address the issues surrounding human-health issues in greater detail over the past few years (more) and (more). We have updated the section in our recent UCOM reports titled: Ambient Radiation in the Atmosphere, near the end of these reports. Because the effects of radiation are difficult to put into perspective by many, and even misinterpreted or exaggerated by agenda-driven adversaries, we portray radiation in context with our environment on Earth, in the atmosphere, in the orbital reaches, and in deep space (more).
Also, of specific interest to geoscientists working in field conditions, UCOM reports include the Alerts Program, from the I2M Web Portal. The editors monitor and select articles for review on potentially hazardous field conditions. This illustrates that there are real hazards ranging from earthquakes, tsunami, meteorological, natural and human-induced hazards other than radiation that surrounds us all (Field Alerts: more).
There are other on-going monitoring programs underway via the I2M Web Portal. These include Security Alerts: (more), which covers computer-hacking warning events and cyber-security issues, and media bias monitoring relating to uranium mining and nuclear power in general (more).
With respect to other environmental issues involved in uranium exploration and mining, we also monitoring asses and report on matters related to radiation in the environment. This is based on the fact that the principal environmental issue surrounding the expansion of nuclear power as an energy source is fear of radiation, the actual impact of which has been exaggerated in the past in the media, and especially movies and news reports of the 1970s and 1980s (more).
Now that we can look back and separate the clear damage done by our use of atomic weapons to end World War II in Japan from the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes in harnessing this energy for generating electricity, we also have learned that the actual impact of a nuclear-core meltdown can be managed. In 1957, the UK had the world’s first nuclear accident (more). Their Windscale reactor, used to produce plutonium for atomic bombs, caught fire and the core experienced partial meltdown. But no one died or was irradiated (more); although cases of thyroid cancer were reported, almost all of those were cured. Some twenty years later, the Three Mile Island incident (more) also experienced a partial meltdown because of equipment failure, but again no one died or was irradiated. Then in the 1980s, the Chernobyl disaster was in a different class. Because of the Soviet Union’s expediency in designing reactors (as a result of “Cold War” competition with the rest of the world), many safety-related management issues were largely ignored or minimized (more). This resulted in an over-reaction to contain a fire in the core. Emergency personnel were rushed into service, which killed more than 30 brave workers (more). In 2011, the Fukushima accidentwas caused by tsunami in Japan (more), but again no one died or was irradiated.
We now know how to handle such core breaches, learned by the Japanese and the rest of the on-looking world in 2011. Evacuations were largely safety measures; fear was the main outcome, but no one was irradiated or died managing the core breach caused by the loss of standby power. The other undamaged reactors at the plant site continued in operation (more). The aerial extent of dangerous radiation turned out to be minimal, although the residual fear prevented many from returning to their homes. Counseling and education have helped many to understand radiation and to gain a new perspective of radiation that surrounds us all (more). As a result, new safety measures in plant design and in emergency response are being implemented and many of the nuclear power plants are coming back on-line, driven by the high prices of imported natural gas and by the slow build-up of the installed cost of operation and maintenance of wind and solar renewable energy (more). New technology involving small-modular reactors (SMRs) are under development and these may play a role in the future of nuclear power continuing to supply the power grid (more).
Objectives of Ucom Reports
One of the principal objectives of our annual reports is to provide a summary of the important developments in uranium exploration and production of yellowcake (U3O8) for the benefit of the members of the Energy Minerals Division, AAPG members, and for the general public who may be interested in how energy is used to generate electricity in the U.S. and overseas.
Another objective is to report on the status of the nuclear power industry worldwide. As the industry expands, the need for fuel will also increase and this will require expansion and development of existing and new sources of uranium.
These activities are driven by nuclear-plant demand for fuel for the 98 reactors currently in operation in the U.S. and the 450 reactors worldwide (and for those under construction/planned for use in the future). Plants also must plan for the storage of their own “used” fuel in the U.S., (which is not all “waste” because some will likely be useful in the future). This is because the U.S. federal government failed to provide the national storage facility mandated by law decades ago while still charging nuclear plants billions of dollars to build Yucca Mountain Facility (without success to date), and which also failed to manage the plants’ radioactive used fuel, when alternative storage locations were available, e.g., the WIPP project in New Mexico (more). Plants are currently storing their used fuel on site in dry casks and approved by EPA (more), which if they were all collected and stored on one site would only require an area the size of an American football field stacking the casks 10-feet high (more).
• The U.S. is the world's largest producer of nuclear power, accounting for more than 30% of worldwide nuclear generation of electricity.
• Some 98 nuclear reactors in the U.S. remain in operation, a few more are scheduled for retirement on the grounds of economics in low-priced natural gas, but two new reactors are being completed in Georgia.
• Following a 30-year period in which few new reactors were built in the U.S., it is expected that two more new units will come online soon after 2020; others resulting from 16 license applications made since mid-2007 are proposing to build 24 new nuclear reactors, most of which are of the new small modular reactor (SMR) design.
• The U.S. produced about 4,015 billion (kWh) of electricity at utility-scale facilities in the U.S.
• Currently, about 63% of the U.S. electricity generation is from fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, petroleum, and other gases). About 20% was from nuclear energy, and about 17% and rising was from renewable energy sources, including hydroelectric power plants.
• The first zero-emission credit programs have commenced, in New York, Illinois, and other states.
• The years 2015 and 2016 exhibited the highest annual growth in nuclear plant capacity in 25 years and has leveled off since at an efficiency of greater than 90%.
• Significant uranium production cuts were made in 2017 from world’s largest uranium producers,
• Uncovered utility demand reaches ~24% by 2021 and 62% by 2025. Hence, production should resume in the foreseeable future assuming the uranium price continues to rise.
• Sustained low-price of uranium indicate that few new sources of supply are on-line, but several mines are either on stand-by or are available for rapid development,
• Uranium holdings could be of strategic interest in the event of uranium supply interruption,
• U.S. utilities looking for risk-free ways to acquire significant supplies for future (likely Canada),
• Implied current yellowcake value is lower than many mine’s cost of production,
• Most of the uranium purchased by utilities is contracted (based on the long-term price: currently ~$32.00/lb U3O8),
• Saudi Arabia plans to build 16 reactors by 2030 with first reactor to come online in 2022;
• South Korea currently operates 25 reactors providing 33% of South Korea’s power, and is building reactors on budget and on time for UAE.
• Japan is upgrading and re-starting most of its fleet of nuclear power plants after Fukushima.
• China plans to build 99 reactors by 2030, with government investment of over $100 billion. Current activities: 38 reactors in operation, 25 under construction, 39 planned/proposed for 240 total reactors on the horizon.
• China is rapidly building some 25 new plants and hundreds more are planned along with financially underwriting the construction of more than 40 projects in joint ventures with other countries.
• Russia currently has seven reactors under construction; An average of one large reactor per year is due to come online through 2028,
• Russia is testing a “fast breeder” design that consumes most used fuel (waste).
• Russia is considering banning uranium sales to U.S. utilities because of the sanctions and tariffs applied by the U.S., while Petition 232 is under review to increase domestic mining and limit foreign imports of uranium.
• Russia also is building a floating nuclear power plant for use along the coast of Siberia and in the Arctic.
• India has turned to nuclear power to ramp up electricity production to match population growth rates and is also working on “fast breeder” designs.
• India plans to be 25% nuclear-energy-powered by 2050.
• Many other countries are also building nuclear plants funded by a variety of sources.
• There have been numerous discoveries of high-grade uranium deposits in Canada and new low-grade deposits reported to be under development in Argentina and Peru. The main Australian uranium mine in South Australia has resumed operations.
• Senior U.S. uranium industry personnel indicate that mining in Texas might not be re-initiated for a number of years because of the low uranium prices.
• Many uranium companies are drilling new and established properties to establish an “in place” resource base in preparation for development sometime in the future as prices begin to rise.
• A new surficial uranium resource base has been identified in Texas by the U.S. Geological Survey.
• A new uranium district has been identified in the eastern Seward Peninsula of Alaska encompassed within the eastern margins of McCarthy Basin. Uranium thorium and rare-earth elements have been discovered in the surrounding igneous rocks.
• New data indicate that based on studies of astronauts, some genes in humans are “turned on” in space and remain on after returning to Earth while others return to “normal”. The actual impact of these weightlessness studies is still being investigated, but early results from the twin-studies indicate that long-term weightlessness is hazardous to humans, and that rotation creating artificial gravity for long-term space flight will be mandatory.
• Offworld exploration for uranium and other elements is being supported indirectly by NASA and private space companies to identify distant asteroids and comets for the purpose of adjusting potentially hazardous orbital conflicts with Earth.
• Ambient radiation on Earth is affected by potential hazards from space and requires monitoring.
• Research funding on uranium and rare earths, thorium, and rare earths by university and industry remains low, but state geological surveys (e.g., Wyoming and New Mexico) and the U.S. Geological Survey are moving forward with robust research on uranium, and rare earths.
All UCOM annual reports and associated materials are available at:
https://www.aapg.org/about/aapg/overview/committees/emd/Articleid/26353/committee-emd-uranium#141872236-activity--reportsBe sure to check for the most recent versions of the above 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.
Uranium (Nuclear and REE) Committee