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USGS reports new domestic uranium potential and new uranium “species”

November 14th, 2017

by Greg Klein | November 14, 2017

Russia might own a sizeable portion of known American uranium deposits but the U.S. Geological Survey says there’s considerably more potential to be found. On November 14 the agency announced parts of Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma might host an estimated “mean of 40 million pounds of in-place uranium oxide,” almost enough to fuel American nuclear plants for a year.

Of course the government agency discusses “potential” outside the framework of NI 43-101 regulations.

USGS reports new domestic uranium potential and new uranium species

First to recognize the new mineral finchite, USGS scientist
Bradley Van Gosen examines rock layers in Texas.
(Photo: Susan Hall/USGS, public domain)

As the world’s largest consumer of uranium for energy, the U.S. relies on nukes for about 19% of the country’s electricity, the report stated. Only 11% of last year’s uranium purchases came from domestic sources, the USGS added.

Located in the Southern High Plains, the newly found near-surface uranium occurs in the rock formation calcrete, a source known in other countries but now reported for the first time as a uranium-bearing material in the U.S.

Another surprise was finchite, “a new uranium mineral species,” the announcement enthused. First reported last month as “a brand new type of uranium mineral not previously recognized,” its name honours the late Warren Finch, a USGS uranium boffin. The agency describes finchite as “a unique combination of strontium, uranium, vanadium and water.”

Among major calcrete-style deposits listed by the World Nuclear Association are Yeelirrie in Western Australia, along with Trekkopje and Langer Heinrich in Namibia. Yeelirrie is a potential open pit held by a Cameco Corp TSX:CCO subsidiary and averaging 0.16% U3O8. Trekkopje, a potential open pit majority-held by AREVA Resources, averages 0.01%. Langer Heinrich, an open pit mine operated on behalf of Paladin Energy, the majority owner now under administrative control, averages 0.052%.

Most of the low-grade uranium deposits in the western U.S. are amenable to relatively low-cost in-situ recovery. But with shallow depth and soft host rock, the newly found calcrete-hosted uranium offers open pit potential, “assuming uranium prices and other factors are favourable,” the USGS noted.

Any positive price assumption will have to wait. Last week Cameco announced the impending suspension of its high-grade McArthur River mine and Key Lake mill in Saskatchewan’s Athabasca Basin. The company said that long-term contracts had shielded it from uranium’s post-Fukushima plunge of over 70%, but those contracts are now expiring. Cameco had previously suspended its Rabbit Lake mine and reduced production at its American operations.

Controversy over American dependence on imported uranium flared up again last month with renewed questions about the sale of Uranium One to Russia’s state-owned Rosatom. The formerly TSX-listed Uranium One holds American resources that could potentially produce a maximum of 1,400 tonnes of uranium annually, according to the WNA. But last year the company’s sole U.S. operation, the Willow Creek ISR mine, produced just 23 tonnes of the country’s total output of 1,126 tonnes.