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China discovers uranium mine at unprecedented depth

A huge mine of uranium ore that could be used for industrial exploitation was discovered at a depth of thousands of meters, causing the estimated reserve to increase 10 times to 2 million tons.

The researchers detected traces of uranium ore.  Photo: China National Nuclear Corporation

The researchers detected traces of uranium ore. Image: China National Nuclear Corporation

The discovery puts China on par with Australia, one of the world’s most uranium-rich countries, according to the scientists involved in the project. Using some of the world’s most advanced technology and equipment, geologists increased the exploration depth to 3,000 meters, six times deeper than most uranium mines in China.

China’s uranium demand is expanding, with nuclear energy supplies growing faster than any other country in the world (6-7 new reactors built each year). However, most of China’s uranium mines are small in size and of poor quality, leading to more than 70% of supplies being imported from countries such as Kazakhstan, Canada and Australia.

Li Ziying, director of the Beijing Institute of Uranium Geology, said the new discovery challenges popular theories about how uranium deposits were formed. Researchers believe that radioactive elements are concentrated in shallow and geophysically stable areas. But some of the largest uranium deposits found in southern China in recent years lie more than 1,500 meters below ground. These regions also experience intense tectonic movement, making the long and complex formation of uranium ore impossible from a previous view.

According to Chinese authorities, Li and his colleagues discovered that uranium can be ejected straight up from the mantle and trapped inside “hot spots” several thousand meters above the ground in several large tectonic collisions. According to him, the difficulty lies in the fact that there are few clues on the ground about the deep uranium mine. “It is as difficult to locate the mine as it is to find a CD over an area of ​​10,000 square kilometers,” Li said.

Over the past decade, Chinese researchers have developed advanced technology and equipment to aid in the search for deep uranium, according to a paper by Li et al. Bulletin of Mineralogy, Petrology and Geochemistry. Remotely controlled ultra-sensitive aerial sensors allow them to detect microscopic heat traces created by radioactive ores with unprecedented accuracy over large areas. The team also created a drill with a special drill to take samples from great depths more efficiently than before, while speeding up data analysis using artificial intelligence technology.

The Chinese government is also investing heavily in the development of materials to filter uranium from seawater. To improve efficiency, the country’s nuclear authorities plan to build several facilities that recycle nuclear waste using various technologies, including particle accelerators.

An Khang (Follow SCMP)

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