What is a Uranium Deposit?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A uranium deposit is a deposit of uranium ores or minerals which contain uranium. Uranium is actually a very abundant element, found widely throughout the world, but deposits in concentrations high enough to be useful are relatively rare. Thus, viable uranium deposits can be quite valuable to national governments and the people who control the mineral rights at the site.

Underground mining is sometimes used to extract uranium.
Underground mining is sometimes used to extract uranium.

The world's leading producers of uranium are Canada, Kazakhstan, and Australia, together accounting for around two thirds of the world's uranium. A common uranium ore is uraninite, sometimes known as pitchblende, although a uranium deposit can contain other ores as well. Because a deposit may not be very rich in uranium, mining companies often use open pit mining to extract the uranium, with the goal of accessing as much as possible.

There are a number of different types of uranium deposit which have been identified by geologists and researchers. One of the most common and most productive is a noncomformity related deposit, which occurs near a geological nonconformity, a break in the geological record which can be caused by any number of circumstances. Other types of uranium deposits include intrusive, breccia complex, sandstone, metamorphic, and volcanic deposits. Geologists conducting uranium exploration can look for sites with geological characteristics which suggest that uranium may be present in usable amounts.

Australia hosts the largest uranium deposit in the world, along with rich deposits of other useful geological substances. Deposits of uranium are identified with the use of tools which can locate high concentrations of radioactive isotopes, such as Geiger counters. Once identified, safety precautions need to be taken, because uranium is associated with radon gas, which can be hazardous. Without taking steps to protect their safety, workers can develop cancers and other health problems as a result of working in or near uranium mines and facilities which process uranium ores.

In addition to open pit extraction techniques, underground mining, leaching, and seawater processing can also be used to access a uranium deposit. The mining technique used can impact the price of the uranium extracted, as labor intensive techniques add to the costs of production. While many people associate uranium with the atomic bomb, this element is also used in nuclear power plants and some other civilian occupations including photography, microscopy, and scientific research. The radioactive properties of this element are considered in civilian applications and steps are taken to make sure that it is used safely.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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