The oxygen isotopic composition of uranium minerals: A review

M. Fayek, J. Horita, E. M. Ripley

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Uranium ore is an essential material in the preparation of nuclear fuel for civilian as well as military uses. Uranium is first extracted from uranium-bearing minerals using a variety of reagents, and is precipitated from solutions as yellow cake prior to isotope enrichment processes. The disintegration of the former Eastern Bloc in the 1990s and frequent unrest in the Middle East have underscored the need for better characterizing source uranium ores for forensic and attribution purposes.The world's major deposits of U occur in several distinctly different geological environments. Fourteen principal types of U deposits and rocks with elevated uranium contents are recognized with more than 40 subtypes. Combining our own analysis and literature data, we have amassed over 250 oxygen isotope data from 13 major U-producing countries, which vary widely from -32 to +11‰. However, interpreting the oxygen isotopic composition of uraninite in terms of the composition of the fluid from which it precipitated, or interacted with, requires knowledge of the fractionation factor and temperature of interactions, which are not always available. Since each deposit type occurs within a unique geologic setting and is generally formed from chemically distinct fluids, the chemical compositions of the uranium ores are also distinct: uranium deposits that form in igneous rocks have higher trace element compositions relative to sandstone-hosted deposits. Our data shows that one of the most useful techniques for distinguishing between uranium ore is to use a combination of δ18O values and rare-earth elements (e.g., La/Yb ratios). These methods may allow investigators to trace uranium ore back to the source.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-21
Number of pages21
JournalOre Geology Reviews
Issue number1
StatePublished - Oct 2011


  • Forensic and attribution
  • Global distribution
  • Oxygen isotope
  • Rare earth element
  • Uranium ore


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