Uranium Mining 101: Part 1 — Exploration

Uranium Mining 101: Part 1 — ExplorationUranium mining is no easy task. The process requires a fair amount of planning and testing, from locating potential deposits right up to getting uranium out of the ground.

Here, Resource Investing News breaks down in layman's terms what goes into detecting uranium in the ground and underwater, also detailing what tests companies undertake to determine the size and density of a deposit and what goes into geophysical analysis. This is the first in series of articles called Uranium Mining 101.

Historic uranium detection

Uranium exploration is similar to other forms of exploration except that it requires special equipment to detect radioactive isotopes. The process has evolved immensely since the first radiochemist, Marie Curie, began studying it in 1896. Before the Geiger counter, an electronic instrument used to detect and measure nuclear radiation, was invented, the most common instruments used in nuclear detection were the photographic place, electroscope, electrometer, ionization chamber and spinthariscope.

The Geiger counter itself came into the picture in the early 1900s, but the first portable version wasn't invented until 1932. The first radioactivity survey using the device came years later, when geophysicist G.C. Ridland carried out testing over pitchblende-bearing veins at Great Bear Lake in Canada's Northwest Territories in 1939. The earliest recorded trial of an airborne radiation detector came in 1947, and was carried out by Eldorado Mining and Refining, now Cameco (TSX: CCO,NYSE:CCJ).

Current techniques

Nowadays the process has become more in depth, as most remaining deposits are deeper beneath the surface. That's led to advances in technologies that allow deeper detection. Some of these advanced technologies include geophysical surveys and geochemical analysis.

Geophysical testing

There are various styles of uranium mineralization, from unconformity deposits to sandstone deposits to intrusive or vein deposits, and when putting together an exploration strategy it is important for companies to understand what they're dealing with. Geophysical testing is the first step in that process as it helps map out the size and density of uranium deposits.

Geophysical testing can be conducted from an aircraft, on the ground or in boreholes, and while some techniques rely on the radioactivity of uranium deposits, others rely on physical contrasts in electrical resistivity, conductivity and induction. Beyond that, other methods of geophysical testing include gravity, magnetic and seismic surveys, which provide scope for deep subsurface structures.