In what is being hailed a breakthrough for the country’s national security, nuclear authorities in China have announced that their researchers have discovered rich uranium deposits deep below the Earth.
According to scientists involved in the project, large industrial-grade deposits were found at depths previously thought impossible to reach, increasing China’s estimated total uranium reserve to more than two million tons.
This week, the China National Nuclear Corporation stated, “This world-leading project is a major breakthrough for our country.”
With its nuclear power supply increasing faster than any country in the world, with seven or eight new reactors being built each year, China’s demand for uranium has been increasing.
However, as most of China’s uranium mines are small in scale and offer poor ore quality, more than 70 percent of its supply comes from countries, including Kazakhstan, Canada and Australia. This reliance on foreign sources is considered by Beijing to be a security risk.
Li Ziying, director of the Beijing Research Institute of Uranium Geology, said the discoveries challenged mainstream theories on uranium deposit formations, as it is generally believed that the deposits can only be found in shallow and geophysically stable areas.
However, some of the largest uranium deposits recently discovered in southern China are located at depths of more than 1,500 meters below the surface.
According to Chinese nuclear authorities, Li and his colleagues discovered that uranium could rise straight from the earth’s mantle and become trapped in small “hotspots” several thousand meters below ground during massive tectonic collisions.
In an interview with Science and Technology Daily, Li said the difficulty was that there is usually only a small hint on the surface of deep uranium deposits, stating, “Locating it is as challenging as finding a compact disc over an area of 10,000-sq km.”
Meanwhile, a Beijing-based researcher studying nuclear fuel, who asked to remain anonymous, said, “The discovery will not fully eliminate China’s dependence on imported uranium because of the numerous cost and engineering challenges of extracting the deposits.”
“But in the long term, it will likely have a profound impact on China’s position in the global market,” Li added.