Integrated Uranium Resource and Environmental Assessment

Science Center Objects

The US Geological Survey has assembled a small group of scientists who are assessing the uranium resource potential of the United States.  Uranium is used to fuel the 98 operable nuclear reactors in the United States, providing 20% of the nation’s electricity. More than 95% of this uranium is imported, and the rest is produced from uranium mines in Wyoming, Nebraska and Texas and a uranium mill in Utah. The potential for uranium production in the United States was last fully evaluated during the energy crisis of the 1970’s, and USGS is working to update this estimate by focusing on high priority regions throughout the United States. Methods to expand evaluation of uranium resources to include the impacts of mining these resources are also being developed. Scientists on the project also participate with and lead international groups of uranium resource experts to monitor world uranium supply which is critical for continued operation of domestic reactors.  This research and accompanying assessments benefit industry, regulators, land owners, land managers, utilities and aid in formulating energy policy in the United States.

RESEARCH

The development of genetic deposit models and evaluation of the environmental impacts of mining require targeted scientific research. This research helps define factors critical to the formation of economic concentrations of uranium, and impacts of mining this uranium. Examples of some uranium research studies that have been recently completed or are in progress are described below. Products of this work are published as peer reviewed articles or fact sheets and presented to scientific or wider non-scientific audiences.

 

Texas Coastal Plain Sandstone-type Deposit Model

Using GIS technology, multiple sources of data were combined to develop a comprehensive regional genetic model for sandstone-hosted uranium deposits in the Texas Coastal Plain region. The method of integrating this data at a regional scale and at different intervals of geologic time, led to the identification of tracts that were prospective for additional uranium resources. This deposit model was used to estimate potential uranium resources for the region

 

Southern High Plains Calcrete-type Deposit Model

In 2016 USGS geologists located outcropping calcrete-hosted uranium mineralization in the Texas Panhandle. Groundwater modelling was used to determine that uranium minerals could have formed from the evaporation of modern groundwater. Strontium and uranium isotopes and detailed studies of the unique deposit mineralogy are helping to identify a regional source of uranium and age of mineralization. Combined with understandings of regional geology, and of similar deposits in Australia and Namibia, the first genetic deposit model for this type of uranium deposit in the US now being developed.

Carnotite with Finchite, Southern High Plains of Texas

Carnotite with Finchite sampled from the Southern High Plains of Texas. Finchite is a new mineral
discovered by scientists with the the US Geological Survey Uranium Resource Project.

(Credit: Susan Hall, USGS. Public domain.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coles Hill Deposit Model

The largest unmined uranium deposit in the US is Coles Hill, located in southwestern Virginia. The original of Coles Hill has been enigmatic since its discovery over 35 years ago. A genetic model is being developed by a research team comprised of geologists at the USGS, the Virginia Museum of Natural History, Virginia Uranium and Virginia Technical University at Blacksburg. The complexity of the deposit is related to multiple tectonic episodes that have impacted this portion of the US, and requires careful integration of the work of geochemists, geochronologists, structural geologists and mineralogists applying multiple analytic techniques. This model will be the basis of an assessment of additional prospective areas and potential uranium resources in the southeastern US.

 

Uranium Environmental Studies

Interdisciplinary uranium environmental studies are being carried out by the USGS scientists and includes the work of geologists, engineers, biologists and hydrologists. Studies of potential impacts of uranium mining are conducted by interdisciplinary teams from the USGS Energy and Minerals, Water and Environmental Health mission areas. Methodology is being developed to integrate the environmental impacts of mining with mineral resources assessments by the USGS Energy and Minerals mission area.

 

Figure of Uranium Resources of the United States

Figure of Uranium Resources of the United States

(Public domain.)

 

 

Related Links

Federal Links

USGS Mineral Resources on-line spatial data (https://mrdata.usgs.gov).  Interactive maps and downloadable data for regional and global geology, geochemistry, and mineral resources including uranium. 

National Geochemical Database (https://pubs.usgs.gov/of/1997/ofr-97-0492/).  Downloadable hydrogeochemical and stream sediment data from the Department of Energy's National Uranium Resource Evaluation program, reformatted and now administered by the USGS. 

US Environmental Protection Agency Uranium Mines and Mills Location Database (https://www.epa.gov/radiation/uranium-mines-and-mills-location-database-0) A compilation of uranium mine locations compiled by the EPA as part of an investigation into potential environmental hazards associated with abandoned uranium mines. 

US Energy Information Administration (http://www.eia.gov/nuclear/).  Analysis and data describing the US domestic uranium and nuclear fuels industry.

 

External Links

World Nuclear Association (http://www.world-nuclear.org)
Information on the nuclear fuel cycle.

International Atomic Energy Agency – Nuclear Fuel Cycle (https://www.iaea.org/topics/nuclear-fuel-cycle). 
Information describing the nuclear fuel cycle including uranium production (https://www.iaea.org/topics/nuclear-fuel-production) and the world distribution of uranium deposits (UDEPO) database (https://infcis.iaea.org/UDEPO/).

Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development – Nuclear Energy Agency (http://www.oecd-nea.org/)
Intergovernmental agency focused on the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Publishes the biennial “Redbook – Uranium resources, production and demand” http://www.oecd-nea.org/ndd/pubs/2016/7301-uranium-2016.pdf