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Geology and Concepts of Genesis of Important Types of Uranium Deposits

By
J. T. Nash
J. T. Nash
U. S. Geological Survey, Denver, Colorado 80225
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H. C. Granger
H. C. Granger
U. S. Geological Survey, Denver, Colorado 80225
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S. S. Adams
S. S. Adams
2342 Broadway, Boulder, Colorado 80302
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Published:
January 01, 1981

Abstract

Uranium ore deposits occur in nearly every major rock type in the earth’s crust, and nearly all igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary processes are capable of concentrating or dispersing uranium. However, only three types of deposits account for more than 70 percent of known Western World Reasonably Assured Resources (WWRAR): Precambrian quartz-pebble conglomerate type, Proterozoic unconformity type, and Phanerozoic sandstone type. Igneous-related processes in plutonic, volcanic, and magmatic-hydrothermal environments, considered important 25 years ago, now account for less than 10 percent of world resources known at present.

The oldest known ore deposits were formed in conglomerates by placer processes under unique anoxic conditions. For the last 2.2 b.y., since oxygenation of the atmosphere, the genesis of both high- and low-temperature deposits has been dominated by three general geochemical processes: (1) oxidation of uranium to soluble U(VI) species permitting aqueous transport, perhaps most commonly as uranyl-carbonate complexes; (2) reduction, principally by C, S−2, or Fe+2 species, to U(IV) to allow precipitation of uraninite (pitchblende), and coffinite, although the specific reductant commonly cannot be determined because these three tend to be associated geologically; and (3) igneous and metamorphic differentiation caused by exclusion of uranium from crystal structure of most rock-forming minerals.

The geochemistry of uranium ore-forming processes has changed in time because of the evolution of life forms and their impact on the earth’s oxygen and carbon budgets. This evolution is reflected in changing predominance of ore types in geologic time: (1) pre-2.8 b.y. ago—no known uranium ore deposits; (2) ca. 2.8 to 2.2 b.y. ago—the first intràcratonic basins and anoxic atmosphere permitted accumulation of placer deposits of uraninite in quartz-pebble conglomerates; these deposits contain about 19 percent of the western world’s resources; (3) ca. 2.2 to 0.4 b.y. ago—following oxygenation of the atmosphere uranium was oxidized and transported as soluble U(VI) complexes to sites of reduction, commonly in organic carbon-rich marginal marine environments. Diagenesis, metamorphism, and near-surface redox enrichment subsequently formed unconformity-type, ultrametamorphic-type, and vein-type ore deposits which together contain more than 25 percent of the western world’s resources; (4) ca. 0.4 b.y. ago to present—after development of land plants the most important ore-forming process was redox-controlled deposition from ground water in continental sediments. Sandstone-type deposits, characteristic of this stage, contain about 40 percent of the western world’s resources.

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Economic Geology Publishing Company

Seventy-Fifth Anniversary Volume

Brian J. Skinner
Brian J. Skinner
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Society of Economic Geologists
ISBN electronic:
9781934969533
Publication date:
January 01, 1981

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