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Energy and water consumption per uranium oxide produced versus time. Figure 7. Carbon dioxide emissions per uranium oxide produced versus ore grade and time. This paper has been the result of slow accumulation of reports and data over a good while. Numerous companies and government agencies provided reports and data, which is much appreciated. Minerals Yearbook ; U.

This article references 26 other publications. View Author Information. Cite this: Environ. Article Views Altmetric -. Citations 8. PDF KB. Abstract The mining of uranium has long been a controversial public issue, and a renewed debate has emerged on the potential for nuclear power to help mitigate against climate change.

Synopsis Data on uranium resources and energy, water, and greenhouse sustainability of uranium production are compiled, showing their sensitivity to deposit ore grade. The nuclear industry has long been a controversial issue, commonly linked to issues such as nuclear weapons and nuclear waste. In Australia, the primary debate has often centered on uranium mining and milling as we have significant economic resources—seen by some as worthy of export for financial return or simply to maintain our position in the global nuclear fraternity.

At present there is vigorous global debate about the perceived potential for nuclear power to reduce greenhouse gas emissions—the central hypothesis put forward by pro-nuclear advocates being the apparent low carbon intensity of nuclear power compared to that of fossil fuels.

How Is Uranium Mining Conducted in the United States?

From an environmental sustainability perspective, it is critical to accurately evaluate the true life cycle costs of all forms of electricity production, especially with respect to greenhouse gas emissions. For nuclear power, a significant proportion of greenhouse gas emissions is derived from the fuel supply, including uranium mining, milling, enrichment, and fuel manufacture. However, there are only limited data reported by uranium miners with respect to greenhouse gas emissions. Further, additional issues that need to be considered for uranium mining and milling include the extent of economic resources known and the average ore grade of these resources.

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These aspects are critical in assessing the long-term ability of nuclear power to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This paper compiles and presents the available data on uranium mining and milling, with a particular emphasis on historical production trends, known economic resources, and greenhouse gas emissions, as well as water and energy consumption.

This is then placed within the context of sustainability metrics applied to uranium mining and milling. Additionally, data were compiled for in situ leach and byproduct derived uranium, thereby allowing a more accurate estimate of uranium production. All data above were summed to compare calculated totals with country resources reported by the edition of ref 9.

Further data have been compiled on other uranium resources, such as phosphates, for comparison to conventional uranium deposits. At present, there are only limited publicly reported data on energy and water consumption in uranium mining and milling and greenhouse gas emissions. Some companies, e. All data have been normalized to consumption per unit uranium oxide U 3 O 8 production. If input fuels such as diesel were reported, energy and greenhouse gas emissions were calculated using ref All mines analyzed reported both direct and indirect energy and greenhouse gas emissions or this could be calculated given available data.

The full energy accounting for direct uranium production at Olympic Dam would need to consider a detailed analysis and breakdown of the milling, metallurgical, and smelting processes for copper, uranium, gold, and silver—which is obviously impracticable only inputs and outputs are known, not internal aspects. Beverley is excluded from ore grade graphs due to the uncertain nature of the actual ore grade being mined by acid leaching.

Prior to development, uranium resources were estimated at 9. The global production of uranium began in large scale following World War II, initially to supply the nuclear weapons programs of the times, but switching to the emerging civil nuclear power industry from the late s. Complete production data are not available for all of these countries, however, a significant portion is available, especially for several of these principal producers.

In total, the compiled cumulative data represents 1.


The average ore grade for milling over time for the above countries is shown in Figure 1 , with the estimated global data for ore milled, ore grade, and production in Figure 2. In situ leach mine production was excluded due to the difficulty of equivalence between solution and hard rock mining.

Given the data include the current major producers, Canada, Australia, and Namibia, the data provide a reasonable representation of the global uranium industry. Two peaks of uranium production are clearly evident in Figure 2 —the weapons phase peaking in followed by the civil phase peaking in Figure 1.

Average uranium ore grade in milling over time. High Resolution Image. It is commonly perceived that uranium is a finite resource. The known availability of uranium has been considered to be limited in the past, with further exploration work leading to further resources being found. For example, at the start of the nuclear arms race in the s, uranium was considered to be extremely scarce, yet rapid and wide-ranging exploration soon proved an abundance of uranium far in excess of that required The second period of uranium mining and milling for civil nuclear power also faced this same dilemma in the s, but exploration again found additional uranium resources, particularly in Australia, Canada, Namibia, and Niger.

The principal aspects of economic resources include the estimated contained uranium as well as the average ore grade of an individual deposit.

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Although country resources over time are compiled and analyzed by ref 9 , the ore grades and other salient statistics of the numerous deposits are invariably never presented. Given the largely western economic control of the global uranium industry, it is therefore possible to compile an up-to-date assessment of recent uranium deposit resource statistics. This can then be compared to the limited earlier data available. In total, the compiled data totals 3. The ore grade of select country uranium resources over time and global and Australian known economic uranium resources are given in Figure 3 , with numerous individual deposits by ore grade and contained uranium compiled in Figure 4 by country.

The compiled data for energy and water consumption per unit of uranium oxide production with respect to ore grade are shown in Figure 5 , and with respect to time in Figure 6. The higher water consumption of Beverley in Figure 6 is due to the fact it is an in situ leach mine.

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The data are summarized in Table 1. Table 1. The compiled data for carbon dioxide emissions per unit of uranium oxide production with respect to ore grade and over time are shown in Figure 7. The data compiled and presented within this paper provide support for a number of key aspects of uranium mining and milling, centered around known economic resources, ore grades of resources and production, energy and water consumption per uranium oxide production, and greenhouse gas emissions carbon dioxide per uranium oxide production.

The extent of economic uranium resources has generally increased over time, coincident with the major periods of exploration. The extremely high grade deposits of Cigar Lake and McArthur River were discovered in and with grades of In Australia, despite broad-ranging exploration in the s with associated spectacular results, there have only been two new economic deposits discovered since the modest Kintyre in and the new Beverley 4 Mile in although an economic mineral resource was not confirmed until early All increases in uranium resources between and have resulted from increased drilling and new assessments at known deposits, mainly Ranger and Olympic Dam.

Although beyond the scope of this paper, significant additional uranium resources are likely to be available as a byproduct from phosphate ore resources e. It is entirely possible that with further exploration new uranium deposits could be found, however, some issues need to be considered. First, given the broad coverage of uranium exploration globally over the past 50 years, any new deposit discovered is most likely to be deeper than most current deposits. This trend is evident in Canada, where successive deposits discovered in Saskatchewan have each been deeper, and future deposits are expected to be found even deeper still e.

The deeper a deposit the more energy which could be expected to be required to mine the resource. Second, the long-term trend over the past five decades has been a steady decline in most average country ore grades even allowing for varying economic assessments of resources. The average country ore grade for the United States in the s was typically 0.

Canada is the only country which has seen a substantive rise in its average ore grade, due to the rich Athabasca Basin deposits of northern Saskatchewan e. These trends in average ore grade of country resources are reflected in the ore grades of as-milled production Figure 1.

It is worth noting that despite the increasing ore grade in Canada, this has not significantly affected typical global average ore grade, which has remained between 0. As ore grade declines, there is an increasing possibility of substantial tonnage. In terms of major production capacity for any proposed nuclear power program, it is clear that these larger-tonnage, lower-grade deposits would need to be developed, thereby continuing to balance the rich Saskatchewan deposits into the future. A common issue raised with uranium is the ability for a major contribution to production from byproduct sources such as phosphate and gold ores.

Virtually all South African uranium has been derived as a byproduct from gold mining in the Witwatersrand Basin. In the United States some uranium was produced as a byproduct from phosphate mining until their permanent closure in capacity of about 1, t U 3 O 8 at that time; edition of ref 9. The Olympic Dam project in Australia, containing copper, uranium, gold, silver, and rare earths, is the only major operating mine not solely mining a deposit for uranium, though Olympic Dam is more correctly described as a coproduct mine due to the economic importance of uranium.

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Over recent years, only South Africa has continued byproduct uranium production from gold ores. There is very little recent data on uranium resources from byproduct operations, especially ore grades and quantity, nor information available to discern or allocate energy, water, and reagent costs and pollutant emissions to the additional effort required for this byproduct uranium. Given the data provided, there appears to be little difference in unit energy costs per uranium oxide production above an ore grade of about 0.

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Google Scholar. RUEI a. Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra. RUEI b. Verhoeven, T. Rum Jungle Rehabilitation Project. Waggitt, P. Waste Management, Tucson. Personalised recommendations. Cite chapter How to cite? ENW EndNote. Buy options.