Radioactive deposits in California

Trace Elements Investigations 229

This report concerns work done on behalf of the Division of Raw Materials of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission.
DOI: 10.3133/tei229



Reconnaissance examination by Government geologists of many areas, mine properties, and prospects in California during the period between 1948 and 1953 has confirmed the presence of radioactive materials in place at more than 40 localities. Abnormal radioactivity at these localities is due to concentrations of primary and secondary uranium minerals, to radon gas, radium (?), and to thorium minerals. Of the known occurrences only three were thought to contain uranium oxide (uranitite or pitchblende), 4 contained uranium-bearing columbate, tantalate, or titanate minerals, 12 contained secondary uranium minerals, such as autunite, carnotite, and torbernite, one contained radon gas, 7 contained thorium minerals, and, at the remaining 16 localities, the source of the anomalous radiation was not positively determined.

The occurrences in which uranium oxide has been tentatively identified include the Rathgeb mine (Calaveras County), the Yerih group of claims (San Bernardino County), and the Rainbow claim (Madera County). Occurrences of secondary uranium minerals are largely confined to the arid desert regions of south-eastern California including deposits in San Bernardino, Kern, Inyo, and Imperial Counties. Uranium-bearing columbate, tantalate, or titanate minerals have been reported from pegmatite and granitic rock in southeastern and eastern California.

Thorium minerals have been found in vein deposits in eastern San Bernardino County and from pegmatites and granitic rocks in various parts of southeastern California; placer concentrations of thorium minerals are known from nearly all areas in the State that are underlain, in part, by plutonic crystalline rocks.

The primary uranium minerals occur principally as minute accessory crystals in pegmatite or granitic rock, or with base-metal sulfide minerals in veins. Thorium minerals also occur as accessory crystals in pegmatite or granitic rock, in placer deposits derived from such rock, and, at Mountain Pass, in veins containing rare earths. Secondary uranium minerals have been found as fracture coatings and as disseminations in various types of wall rock, although they are largely confined to areas of Tertiary volcanic rocks. Probably the uranium in the uraniferous deposits in California is related genetically to felsic crystalline rocks and felsic volcanic rocks; the present distribution of the secondary uranium minerals has been controlled, in part, by circulating ground waters and probably, in part, by magmatic waters related to the Tertiary volcanic activity. The thorium minerals are genetically related to the intrusion of pegmatite and plutonic crystalline rocks.

None of the known deposits of radioactive minerals in California contain marketable reserves of uranium or thorium ore under economic conditions existing in 1952. With a favorable local market small lots of uranium ore may be available in the following places: the Rosamund prospect, the Rafferty and Chilson properties, the Lucky Star claim, and the Yerih group. The commercial production of thorium minerals will be possible, in the near future, only if these minerals can be recovered cheaply as a byproduct either from the mining of rare earths minerals at Mountain Pass or as a byproduct of placer mining for gold.

Study Area

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Publication type:
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USGS Numbered Series
Radioactive deposits in California
Series title:
Trace Elements Investigations
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U.S. Geological Survey
Report: 69 p.; Plate: 15.74 x 19.77 inches
United States
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