Monday, May 10, 2010

Planning the next uranium resource assessment

Will the next uranium assessment by the USGS follow traditional patterns and look at the resource only or will it take a life-cycle approach to include environmental and economic factors; will it cover the entire US or selected focus areas; or will it be deferred because all the staff will be carrying out a long-term monitoring and evaluation of the Arizona Strip as part of a withdrawal of federal lands?

These were some of the questions that underlay a two-day workshop organized in Denver last week with representatives from Colorado Plateau region state geological surveys, including myself for Arizona.

Many of the authors of the USGS' recent report on uranium in the Arizona Strip were there, gave summaries of their results and discussed the level of certainties and the unknowns.

The uniqueness of Arizona's uranium breccia pipe province really stood out compared to resources in the other Plateau states and Wyoming: the richness of the pipe mineralization and the potential for vastly greater numbers of previously undiscovered breccia pipes. I showed a slide from Quaterra Resources of the geophysical anomalies that exploration companies are discovering in the region, that may indicate vastly more breccia pipes being present than ever imagined. We don't know at this point how many of the anomalies will be confirmed as pipes and how many of them will be mineralized. But it certainly raises the possibility that northern Arizona could hold not only one of the richer but also one of the larger uranium resources in the country and the world. [right, some uranium breccia pipes and exploration targets in the Arizona Strip. Credit, Quaterra Resources]

The USGS minerals group is talking about the need for an updated national uranium assessment but the extent and nature of that undertaking is still in preliminary form. The recent USGS report on northern Arizona appears to be the first integrated ("life-cycle") approach they've taken for minerals. It seems to me that they will continue with this, despite the larger staff and financial resources needed to undertake studies like this.

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