The exploration of 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.
Uranium ore: a precious resource
Natural uranium is a hard, gray metal that is very dense. It contains 2 main isotopes:
- U 238 at 99%, non-fissile
- U 235 at 0.7%, fissile
In nature, it is relatively widespread in the earth's crust (3 grams per metric ton on average), along with other chemical bodies in the form of ore. Currently exploited deposits contain 100 grams to 10 kilograms of uranium per metric ton of extracted ore. Some exceptionally rich deposits can contain up to 100 kilograms per metric ton of ore.
AREVA's mining activities start with an exploration phase that uses special prospection techniques to identify new deposits of exploitable uranium before actual operations begin.
Exploration: a long-term activity
To ensure its customers’ long-term security of supply, AREVA devotes considerable means to the search for new deposits. The objective is to continuously maintain 20 years of resources and reserves*.
The exploration budget is one of the largest in the world, representing nearly 50 million euros per year.
The exploration process to confirm a new deposit takes several years, with the average being about ten years, from the moment that the very first indications are discovered to the confirmation of a potentially recoverable resource.
Exploration will continue beyond that point throughout the life of the mining project to try to identify supplementary resources close to the initial deposit.
* Reserves consist of uranium that is technically and economically recoverable.Resources encompass uranium in promising concentrations, but whose technical and economic profitability have yet to be confirmed.
EXPLORATION, A SERIES OF STAGES
Exploration is performed in successive stages, with the search being 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 emitted by uranium rock),
- Radioactivity measurements on the ground,
- Reconnaissance and core drilling,
- Chemical study of soil and water.
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:
- Will exploitation be profitable, given the expected market price of uranium?
- 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.
- What will the impact be on the environment and on the life of local communities during and after exploitation?
The development of a mining project is carried out in close collaboration with local communities and their representative authorities. This enables us to provide the best technical, economic and environmental solution.