Survey of Energy Resources 2007
Uranium - Exploration
Worldwide exploration expenditures in 2004 totaled over US$ 133 million, an increase of almost 40% compared to 2002 expenditure. The implications of the diverging trend of reactor requirements and fresh uranium production were finally recognised and increasing uranium prices provided the previously-lacking economic incentive for accelerated exploration worldwide. Most major producing countries, but also countries without previous production, reported significant increases in exploration expenditure, perhaps best exemplified by the United States, where exploration expenditure in 2002 amounted to well under US$ 1 million but by 2004 had jumped to over US$ 10 million (NEA/IAEA, 2006).
Exploration activities continued to expand through 2005 and 2006 and are expected to reach and possibly exceed US$ 200 million per year. Although data on actual expenditure are not yet available, the number of new exploration companies provides an indication of the dynamics unfolding in the industry: the number exploded from 25 in 2004 to more than 300 entities in 2006 (Jander, 2006). Whilst exploration activities concentrated predominantly on sites close to existing mines/deposits or on potentially promising regions based on past work, the rising price also stimulated grass-roots exploration.
What could be the possible impact of higher exploration activities on the potential discovery of new uranium deposits? Historically, finding uranium incurred average exploration costs of the order of US$ 2/kgU (ranging from US$ 0.25/kgU to almost US$ 11/kgU) for the period 1945 to 2003 (NEA, 2006). These cost data have to be cautiously interpreted, as the easy-to-find deposits have already been discovered and future discoveries are likely to be more costly. Innovation advances in the geosciences and technology, however, continue to keep costs under control.