Application of Radiation-Induced Defects in Quartz to Exploration for Uranium Deposits: A Case Study of the Maw Zone, Athabasca Basin, Saskatchewan

Exploration & Mining Geology, Vol. 21, No. 1, 2013


The nature and distribution of radiation-induced defects (RIDs) in quartz from the Maw Zone, a yttrium- and rare-earth-element-enriched sandstone breccia complex exhibiting intense hydrothermal alteration, have been investigated by electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) spectroscopy. EPR spectra show that detrital quartz in sandstone, from five diamond drill holes intersecting the Maw Zone and one above the crest of the so-called Quartzite Ridge, contain only background-level RIDs, indicating that Ubearing fluids were absent in this area. However, close to the sandstone-basement unconformity, in hole WR-194 immediately west of the Quartzite Ridge, the concentration of RIDs in detrital quartz is significantly above background but at least an order of magnitude lower than those at the Key Lake and McArthur River deposits. Widespread drusy quartz at the Maw Zone, which signifies intense hydrothermal alteration, is associated with hematite-, sulfide- and carbonate-bearing mineral assemblages, which exhibit complex crosscutting relationships. EPR spectra of drusy quartz in all three types of mineral assemblages are low in RIDs as well, supporting the EPR evidence that fluids at the Maw Zone did not carry significant U. These EPR results suggest that, in spite of intense hydrothermal alteration and favorable structural geology, the Maw Zone is unlikely to host any significant U mineralization. Moreover, this study shows that the EPR technique is potentially a useful exploration tool, capable of determining whether individual alteration zones in the Athabasca Basin were associated with U-bearing fluids or not.
Keywords: quartz EPR, radiation-induced defects, hydrothermal alteration, uranium exploration, Athabasca Basin