Uranium exploration increased over the past decade in response to an increase in the price of uranium, with more than 900 companies engaged in the global exploration on over 3,000 projects. Major economic discoveries of new uranium orebodies have been elusive despite global exploration expenditures of $3.2 billion USD, with most of the effort in historical uranium districts. The increased effort in exploration with minimal return can be described through the example of a cyclical model based on exploration and discovery in the prolific Athabasca Basin, Saskatchewan. The model incorporates exploration expenditure, quantities of discovered uranium, and the sequence of uranium deposit discoveries to reveal that discovery cycles are epochal in nature and that they are also intimately related to the development and deployment of new exploration technologies. Exploration in the Athabasca Basin can be divided into an early “prospector” phase and the current “model-driven”phase. The future of successful uranium exploration is envisaged as the “innovation exploration” stage in which a paradigmatic shift in the exploration approach will take the industry towards new discoveries by leveraging research and technology development. Effective engagement within the “innovation exploration” paradigm requires that exploration organizations recognize knowledge brokers, and adopt research, development, and technology transfer as a long-term, systematic strategy, including critical definition of exploration targets, identification of innovation frontiers needed, enhanced leadership to accurately portray the research and development imperative and elevation of the status of the research and development effort within the organizational system.

Editor’s note: This paper does not necessarily reflect the views of the Society of Economic Geologists.

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