Exploring new mining resources
Exploration consists of identifying new exploitable uranium resources. This is carried out in successive stages. Once evidence of uranium has been discovered, the presence of a deposit has to be confirmed before verifying its technical, economic and environmental viability.
Exploration: a long-term activity
AREVA's mining operations start with an exploration phase that uses special prospection techniques to identify new exploitable deposits of uranium before actual operations begin.
Exploration is performed in successive stages. The search is progressively refined according to a strict methodology:
• Geological study of the region
• Interpretation of aerial or satellite images
• Geophysical techniques such as airborne radiometric surveys (detection of radiation potentially emitted by uranium-bearing rock)
• Radioactivity measurements on the ground
• Reconnaissance and core drilling
• Chemical analysis of soil and water
When traces are located, exploration is performed using an increasingly refined grid system, with systematic boring. This work enables AREVA to assess the deposit’s size and whether it is economically exploitable. This work is done under an exploration permit, which may lead to an operating permit for the deposit.
Exploration can be long and costly, sometimes taking 10 to 15 years or even longer and requiring up to 50 million euros in investment.
On average, 15 years pass between the detection of uranium ore and the exploitation of a deposit.
Uranium ore: a precious resource
Natural uranium is a hard, gray metal that is very dense. It contains 2 main isotopes:
- 99% non-fissile U238
- 0.7 % fissile U235
Natural uranium is relatively widespread in the Earth's crust (3 grams per metric ton on average) in combination with other chemical bodies. Currently exploited deposits contain hundreds of grams to several kilograms of uranium per metric ton of extracted ore. Some exceptionally rich deposits can contain up to 200 kilograms per metric ton of ore.
Verifying the viability of a mining operation project
Before the exploitation of a deposit, it is necessary to verify the technical and economic viability of the mine. A number of questions must be addressed:
• Has the best method for extracting and processing the ore been chosen? A test phase (the “pilot” phase) is always carried out to make sure this is the case.
• Will exploitation be profitable, given production costs and the expected market price of uranium?
• What will be the impact on the environment and the life of local communities during and after mining operations?
The development of a mining project is carried out in close collaboration with local communities and their representatives. This enables us to provide the best technical, economic and environmental solution.