Overview of uranium exploration and the nuclear industry in Argentina

Argentina’s long experience in the nuclear industry is evident not only in continuously generating electricity, 10% on average of Argentina’s national consumption since 1974, but also for the companies associated with the government-owned National Atomic Energy Commission (CNEA) that supply nuclear reactors for research and radioisotope manufacture for the international market. CNEA’s technical teams began exploring and mining-milling uranium in the 1950’s, but only a few geologically appropriate areas have been explored since then.

Now, based on results from exploring sedimentary basins and granitic and volcanic related areas, further developing uranium resources beyond national requirements seems feasible. Meanwhile, investigating areas that could be mined using in-situ leaching, are just beginning, and some interesting surficial deposits were discovered in recent years.

Indigenous uranium production fueled the operating nuclear power plants for 20 years, until 1997, when the Sierra Pintada Mine-Mill Complex, Mendoza Province, was put on stand-by for economic reasons. Then, five years ago, the government launched a reactivation program, by completing the construction of a third nuclear power plant and, effectively reinitiating development of a national, low-power technology reactor.

These measures conform with proposals of energy experts directed at increasing nuclear participation in the energy sector, reducing dependency on oil and gas imports. At the same time, CNEA’s teams, along with junior and senior private companies, are taking new initiatives in uranium exploration, spurred on by rising international uranium prices. Reactivating uranium production and increasing resource exploration are relevant activities for minimising dependence on foreign uranium supply for fuel in the long term.

At present, CNEA has plans for re-starting production in Sierra Pintada, and reaching the production stage in the Cerro Solo Project in Patagonia, although both projects face difficulties related to obtaining permits. Waste remediation is being carried out or is under study at former mining-milling sites. The efficient completion of remediation will be very important for obtaining social licenses for new production, as the social perspective on nuclear and mining activities is as controversial here as in other countries.

SRK may play a role in future nuclear activities in Argentina by supporting uranium exploration and production, both private and government-run. SRK’s experts have experience in all stages of uranium production, in environmental studies, and mine closure and remediation. SRK is currently involved in selecting consulting companies for remediation of a closed uranium production center. In furthering exploration activities performed by private companies, SRK’s Santiago, Chile office carried out some advisory studies, and maintains contacts for continuing services involving the Mendoza Office.

Pablo Navarra: pnavarra@srk.com.ar

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