Just recently, China National Nuclear Corp. (CNNC) announced it had made a technological breakthrough in uranium mining with a record drilling depth of 2,818.88 meters. The drilling was conducted at Fuzhou City, in east China’s Jiangxi Province, and is more than twice the 1200 meter depth previously achieved by CNNC. In a statement, the state-owned company, which is also China’s largest atomic energy developer, said the new drilling technology “can help boost China’s domestic uranium supplies and ensure the key energy source for developing nuclear power generation.”
While there are currently 17 operating reactors in China, the country’s hunger for uranium is going to get a lot more intense. It has 28 reactors under construction, 53 planned and another 118 proposed. Having allocated nuclear a leading role in their future energy mix, you can understand their desire to secure long-term uranium supply. This is particularly so when, with the HEU almost out of action, the world’s current largest nuclear reactor fleet (the US) is going to be looking for more fuel.
As a professional geologist and someone who has spent his career in the resources sector – most of it in uranium exploration – I’m always pleased to hear of advances in exploration technology. As the CEO of a uranium explorer focused on the Athabasca Basin, however, I have to point at discoveries in the Athabasca Basin, most of which are less than 400m and one of the shallowest (Fission’s PLS) is so far showing much of the mineralization at less than 100m. Oh, and did I mention the Basin has the highest uranium grades in the world?
If you don’t care about the grade, uranium is not a hard metal to find. There are known deposits all over the world and I mean all over. The reason we care about the grade in the uranium sector is the same for other metals – low grades mean more effort to extract meaningful quantities and that means more cost. The same goes for a deposit located over two thousand meters down. You can find uranium that deep but nine times out of ten it won’t be economically feasible to mine it. Now if you’re a national government-owned company you may not care about that. For everyone else it’s an issue.
As Azincourt director, Dev Randhawa, is fond of saying, Canadians excel at finding stuff in the ground and getting it to wherever it’s needed. That’s why the Chinese power companies have made no secret of their intentions to buy or to JV with companies operating in Canada – particularly in the Athabasca Basin. We have the highest grades in the world (10x world average), superb infrastructure, a political establishment at local, regional and national level that is pro-mining and a national government that has made a series of determined steps to improve trade relations with China, specifically in the area of uranium. Advances in drilling at depth are great but nothing beats high grades at economic depths.Twitter, LinkedIn or sign up to receive regular company updates directly to your inbox.