The Mineral Exploration Roadmap
Mineral Exploration Roadmap
There is nothing more exciting than making some type of discovery.
Discoveries can come in many forms – they can be physical, scientific, personal, or even philosophical in nature. But while there are different types of discoveries that can be made, perhaps the most tactile kind of discovery is in the field of mineral exploration.
The discovery of a mineral deposit can transform a piece of “moose pasture” into a new economic asset, and it may enable millions or billions of dollars worth of metals and minerals to be used for human purposes.
These minerals get used all around us – they go into our houses, cars, infrastructure, jewelry, electronics, and they can even be used to power the green revolution.
From Prospecting to Production
Making an economic mineral discovery is the goal of many teams around the world, but these efforts can also be extremely difficult, costly, and time-consuming, and most companies engaged in exploration end up walking away empty-handed.
Today’s infographic comes to us from Orix Geoscience and it shows the steps of mineral exploration, and how teams can maximize their odds of success by using data to add value throughout the process.
Steps of the Mineral Exploration Process
1. Exploration Strategy
Where do you choose to explore? There are two basic strategies:
(a) Working from the known
Deposits tend to form in clusters in prolific belts, and exploration occurs outward from known mineralization.
(b) Working from the unknown
If you review all available information, prospective areas with potential for discoveries can be identified.
In this stage, boots are now on the ground – and it’s time to explore the backwoods for showings. Prospectors will stake claims, map outcrops and showings, and search for indicator minerals.
The goal of the prospecting stage is to find the earliest piece of the exploration puzzle: the clue that there is something much bigger beneath.
3. Early-Stage Exploration
Congrats, you’ve found something interesting – and now it’s time to ramp up exploration efforts!
This is where the amount of data and sophistication picks up. In this stage, companies are using existing maps and historical data, geophysics, ground truthing, geochemistry, and trenching to try and identify drill targets.
4. The “Truth Machine”
Geologists don’t call the drill a “truth machine” for nothing.
If you’re target hits, you’re in business. If your target misses, it’s time to go back a step and find new ones.
Eureka! You’ve found something. Now it’s time to see how far the mineralization goes!
Once you have enough information, you can get an official resource estimate. This data is another puzzle piece that will be crucial as you advance your discovery.
Even at the best of times, mining can be expensive, risky, and tricky.
That’s why your investors and backers will want you to source even more data – it’ll allow you to see a clearer picture of the deposit, and help your team see how it could take shape as a mine.
At this stage, drilling, metallurgical tests, environmental assessments, 3d models, and mine designs are used to increase confidence in the project.
Data starts to get very granular. Your company may do a Preliminary Economic Assessment (PEA) to assess the potential economic outcomes of a mine. Then after, they may conduct an in-depth Feasibility Study to help make a production decision.
By this point, you may have all the puzzle pieces – a clear vision of the deposit and its potential – to make a decision!
If the puzzle looks good, it’s time to make a production decision, construct the mine, and start commercial production. But the data doesn’t stop there – at these later stages, even more data gets created and it can help you make better decisions.
Visualizing the Uranium Mining Industry in 3 Charts
These visuals highlight the uranium mining industry and its output, as well as the trajectory of nuclear energy from 1960 to today.
When uranium was discovered in 1789 by Martin Heinrich Klaproth, it’s likely the German chemist didn’t know how important the element would become to human life.
Used minimally in glazing and ceramics, uranium was originally mined as a byproduct of producing radium until the late 1930s. However, the discovery of nuclear fission, and the potential promise of nuclear power, changed everything.
What’s the current state of the uranium mining industry? This series of charts from Truman Du highlights production and the use of uranium using 2021 data from the World Nuclear Association (WNA) and Our World in Data.
Who are the Biggest Uranium Miners in the World?
Most of the world’s biggest uranium suppliers are based in countries with the largest uranium deposits, like Australia, Kazakhstan, and Canada.
The largest of these companies is Kazatomprom, a Kazakhstani state-owned company that produced 25% of the world’s new uranium supply in 2021.
As seen in the above chart, 94% of the roughly 48,000 tonnes of uranium mined globally in 2021 came from just 13 companies.
|Rank||Company||2021 Uranium Production (tonnes)||Percent of Total|
|3||🇷🇺 Uranium One||4,514||9%|
|6||🇺🇿 Navoi Mining||3,500||7%|
|9||🇦🇺 General Atomics/Quasar||2,241||5%|
|11||🇬🇧 Energy Asia||900||2%|
France’s Orano, another state-owned company, was the world’s second largest producer of uranium at 4,541 tonnes.
Companies rounding out the top five all had similar uranium production numbers to Orano, each contributing around 9% of the global total. Those include Uranium One from Russia, Cameco from Canada, and CGN in China.
Where are the Largest Uranium Mines Found?
The majority of uranium deposits around the world are found in 16 countries with Australia, Kazakhstan, and Canada accounting for for nearly 40% of recoverable uranium reserves.
But having large reserves doesn’t necessarily translate to uranium production numbers. For example, though Australia has the biggest single deposit of uranium (Olympic Dam) and the largest reserves overall, the country ranks fourth in uranium supplied, coming in at 9%.
Here are the top 10 uranium mines in the world, accounting for 53% of the world’s supply.
Of the largest mines in the world, four are found in Kazakhstan. Altogether, uranium mined in Kazakhstan accounted for 45% of the world’s uranium supply in 2021.
|Uranium Mine||Country||Main Owner||2021 Production|
|Cigar Lake||🇨🇦 Canada||Cameco/Orano||4,693t|
|Inkai 1-3||🇰🇿 Kazakhstan||Kazaktomprom/Cameco||3,449t|
|Husab||🇳🇦 Namibia||Swakop Uranium (CGN)||3,309t|
|Karatau (Budenovskoye 2)||🇰🇿 Kazakhstan||Uranium One/Kazatomprom||2,561t|
|Four Mile||🇦🇺 Australia||Quasar||2,241t|
|Olympic Dam||🇦🇺 Australia||BHP Billiton||1,922t|
|Central Mynkuduk||🇰🇿 Kazakhstan||Ortalyk||1,579t|
|Kharasan 1||🇰🇿 Kazakhstan||Kazatomprom/Uranium One||1,579t|
Namibia, which has two of the five largest uranium mines in operation, is the second largest supplier of uranium by country, at 12%, followed by Canada at 10%.
Interestingly, the owners of these mines are not necessarily local. For example, France’s Orano operates mines in Canada and Niger. Russia’s Uranium One operates mines in Kazakhstan, the U.S., and Tanzania. China’s CGN owns mines in Namibia.
And despite the African continent holding a sizable amount of uranium reserves, no African company placed in the top 10 biggest companies by production. Sopamin from Niger was the highest ranked at #12 with 809 tonnes mined.
Uranium Mining and Nuclear Energy
Uranium mining has changed drastically since the first few nuclear power plants came online in the 1950s.
For 30 years, uranium production grew steadily due to both increasing demand for nuclear energy and expanding nuclear arsenals, eventually peaking at 69,692 tonnes mined in 1980 at the height of the Cold War.
Nuclear energy production (measured in terawatt-hours) also rose consistently until the 21st century, peaking in 2001 when it contributed nearly 7% to the world’s energy supply. But in the years following, it started to drop and flatline.
By 2021, nuclear energy had fallen to 4.3% of global energy production. Several nuclear accidents—Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and Fukushima—contributed to turning sentiment against nuclear energy.
|% of Total Energy|
More recently, a return to nuclear energy has gained some support as countries push for transitions to cleaner energy, since nuclear power generates no direct carbon emissions.
What’s Next for Nuclear Energy?
Nuclear remains one of the least harmful sources of energy, and some countries are pursuing advancements in nuclear tech to fight climate change.
Small, modular nuclear reactors are one of the current proposed solutions to both bring down costs and reduce construction time of nuclear power plants. The benefits include smaller capital investments and location flexibility by trading off energy generation capacity.
With countries having to deal with aging nuclear reactors and climate change at the same time, replacements need to be considered. Will they come in the form of new nuclear power and uranium mining, or alternative sources of energy?
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