Texas uranium deposits could meet US nuclear energy demand for almost a year
The Southern High Plains region of Texas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma may hold more uranium than previously thought, a new study published Tuesday shows, but prices for the radioactive commodity would need to move much higher before any new mining takes place in the area.
According to the latest report by the US Geological Survey (USGS) there are about 40 million pounds of uranium oxide under the rolling South Texas plains present in a type of rock formation called “calcrete,” found in top uranium-producing countries including Australia and Namibia.
Such deposits, if developed, could supply a year’s worth of power to US nuclear reactors, which provide about 19% of the country’s electricity, the agency estimates.
While the US the world’s largest consumer of uranium used in nuclear power plants, only 11% of the commodity acquired by civilian nuclear power reactors last year was obtained from domestic sources, the USGS says.
The assessment of the Southern High Plains, which stretches from eastern New Mexico across North Texas to western Oklahoma, yielded a big surprise — a new uranium mineral species.
Discovered near Sulphur Springs Draw in Texas, the new mineral was named finchite, after long-time USGS uranium scientist Warren Finch (1924—2014). The element is a unique combination of strontium, uranium, vanadium, and water, and is a potential source of mineable uranium ore, the agency experts say.
“This assessment was especially exciting for us, as not only did we get to discover a new species of mineral, but we also had the opportunity to honour a friend and celebrated colleague,” USGS scientist Susan Hall, lead author of the study, said in a statement. “Dr. Finch’s long service and contributions to uranium science now live on through this new mineral, which itself has the potential to contribute to the Nation’s energy mix.”
“The calcrete uranium deposits within this region have the advantage of shallow depth and soft host rock,” noted USGS scientist Brad Van Gosen, co-author of the assessment. “These qualities work well for open-pit mining, assuming uranium prices and other factors are favourable.”
But the world doesn’t need more uranium at the moment. Prices for the commodity have fallen more than 70% since the Fukushima disaster in 2011 and have remained low since then as a result of oversupply and excess inventory in the industry.
Factoring in a production curtailment announced by Canada’s top uranium producer Cameco (TSX:CCO) (NYSE:CCJ) last week, analysts estimate analyst estimates that the global uranium market will be in surplus by approximately five million pounds next year. That figure also assumes the 10% production cut (equivalent to about 5.2 million pounds) announced by Kazakhstan’s state-owned Kazatomprom in January, is sustained into 2018.