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Nuclear institute finds uranium in Guangdong ores

By LYU CHANG (China Daily) Updated: 2015-10-16 08:17

A top nuclear research institute has discovered the existence of natural metallic uranium in China, disproving a previous belief it could exist only as a compound naturally, thus requiring extraction treatment.

A team from Beijing Research Institute of Uranium Geology at China National Nuclear Corporation has found ores containing metallic uranium in northern Guangdong province, which could help provide a secure supply to China's ever-growing nuclear industry.

Li Ziying, its president and senior geologist, said the team used a ground-breaking technique called X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy in its study.

He explained uranium-a radioactive metal that is largely used to fuel nuclear power plants-normally exists as an oxide, and has never before been found naturally in its pure-metal form because of its instability and changeable nature.

Li said that the uranium was found at a relatively shallow level beneath the surface, but that the discovery provided evidence that resources could be found at a depth up to 3,000 meters.

Although only a portion of the uranium remained in its metallic state, Li said the percentage of pure uranium detected may reflect depth deposits.

"It gives us a way to study the origin of hydrothermal uranium deposits, and will have a positive effect on domestic fuel supply," said Li.

Large uranium deposits are found in Africa, Central Asia, Australia and Canada.

Harikrishnan Tulsidas, a nuclear technology specialist at the International Atomic Energy Agency, said in an emailed reply that he considered the discovery important, and that it provides "food for thought" on the deposits of uranium.

The global uranium price has fallen in recent years as a result of the economic slowdown and Japan's Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011.

But experts say a bull market could be forming, driven by China's booming nuclear industry.

The world's largest energy consumer, China is leading the world with the pace of its reactor construction as it pledged to optimize its energy mix by using more non-fossil fuels.

Some 26 nuclear reactors are in operation with 24 units under construction by the end of June.

As a result, having more control over global nuclear fuel supply has become strategically important to the country.

China National Nuclear Corp, one of its largest nuclear firms, has been investing in exploration of domestic uranium deposits, to ease the pressure on global supplies. But imports are still inevitable to diversity its sources.

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