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Characteristics of U.S. Uranium Deposits

Gene K. Ealy, Mining Exploration Technology for Lawyers and Landmen (1980)


Uranium is a lithophile element. A lithophile element is an element which is enriched in the earth's crust. Elements other than uranium are enriched in the earth's mantle or core. These would include copper, iron and nickel. Other lithophile elements would include aluminum and silica. As a lithophile element, uranium is ubiquitous in the earth's crust occurring at an average concentration of 2-4 parts per million in crustal rocks and 3-4 parts per billion in the ocean. However, only rarely is uranium concentrated sufficiently to constitute an ore deposit. By definition, ore is a mineral which can be economically exploited.

Like every other commodity known to man, the supply of uranium is dependent on the economics of producing it. Under present cost geometry if the price of U3O8 were $8.00 per pound as it was in the 1950's and 1960's, for all practical purposes uranium production in the United States would be nonexistant. If, on the other hand, the U3O8 price were three or four times as high as the current price of about $40.00 per pound, there is sufficient uranium in the ocean and in some shales and granites to make the U3O8 supply infinite for all practical purposes. Therefore, when considering uranium as an element, we can consider it to be very common, but when thinking of uranium in terms of an economic commodity it is much less common; indeed to most explor