Paper version: In stock and available from the USGS Store
Resources were assessed for thorium in the higher grade and better known deposits in the United States in: (1) veins, (2) massive carbonatites, (3) stream placers of North and South Carolina, and (4) disseminated deposits. Thorium resources for the first three categories were divided into reserves and probable potential resources. Each of these then were separated into the following cost categories: (1) the amount of ThO2 producible at less than $15 per pound, (2) the amount producible at between $15 and $30 per pound, and (3) the amount producible at more than $50 per pound. The type of mining and milling needed at each deposit determines the capital, operating, and fixed costs of both mining and milling. Costs start with the clearing of land and are carried through to the final product, which for all deposits is ThO2. Capital costs of mining are affected most by the type of mining and the size of the mine. Those of milling are affected most by the kind of mill, its size, and whether or not extra circuits are needed for the separation of rare earths or some other byproduct.
Veins, massive carbonatites, and stream placers of North and South Carolina have reserves of 188,000 short tons of ThO2 and probable potential resources of 505,000 tons of ThO2. Approximately half of the reserves and probable potential resources can be produced at less than $30 per pound of ThO2. Veins are the highest grade source in the United States and have total reserves of 142,000 tons of ThO2 and probable potential resources of 343,000 tons. About 90 percent of the reserves and 91 percent of the probable potential resources can be produced at less than $15 per pound of ThO2. Seven vein districts were evaluated: (1) Lemhi Pass, Mont.-Idaho, (2) Wet Mountains, Colo., (3) Powderhorn, Colo., (4) Hall Mountain, Idaho, (5) Diamond Creek, Idaho, (6) Bear Lodge Mountains, Wyo. and (7) Mountain Pass, Calif. Eighty-seven percent of the total reserves and probable potential resources are in the Lemhi Pass and Wet Mountains Districts. The first district has reserves of 68,000 tons of ThO2 and probable potential resources of 124,000 tons that can be produced at less than $15 per pound; the second district has 54,000 tons of reserves and 141,000 tons of probable potential resources producible at less than $15 per pound. Rare earths are a common byproduct, and in many veins they are from one-half to several times as abundant as thorium.
Massive carbonatite bodies are large-tonnage low-grade deposits. Thorium in these deposits would be a byproduct either of rare earth or of niobium mining. The Iron Hill carbonatite body in the Powderhorn district, Colorado, and the Sulfide Queen carbonatite body in the Mountain Pass district, California, were evaluated. These two deposits contain 40,800 tons of ThO2 in reserves and 125,000 tons of ThO2
in probable potential resources. More than 80 percent of this total is in the Iron Hill carbonatite. This thorium is entirely a byproduct and is producible at less than $15 per pound of ThO2. The Sulphide Queen massive carbonatite deposit was being mined in 1977 for rare earths, and thorium could be recovered by adding an extra circuit to the existing mill.
Stream placers in North and South Carolina occur both in the Piedmont and just east of the Fall Line. The reserves of these deposits total 5,270 tons of ThO2, and the probable potential resources are 36,800 tons of ThO2. The Piedmont placers are all too small to produce ThO2 at a cost of less than $50 per pound. One placer on Hollow Creek, S.C., just east of the Fall Line had reserves of 2,040 tons of ThO2 that is producible at between $15 and $30 per pound. Thorium occurs in monazite in these placers. Other heavy minerals that would be recovered with the monazite include rutile, zircon, and ilmenite. In addition to thorium, monazite contains large amounts of rare earths and small amounts of uranium; both can be recovered during the process that separates thorium