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Bureau of Mines / Minerals yearbook: Metals and minerals 1977
Year 1977, Volume 1 (1977)

Kahn, Martha L.
Thorium,   pp. 923-929 ff. PDF (754.1 KB)


Page 923

Thorium 
By Martha L. Kahn1 
Monazite, the principal source of thorium, continued to be a byproduct of
titanium and tin mining and was recovered domestically for its rare-earth
content in Florida. Thorium-containing residues remaining after extraction
of rare earths from monazite were stored for future use. Practically all
thorium compounds used by the domestic industry during 1977 came from existing
company stocks or imports. 
No major developments occurred in the nonenergy uses of thorium, which include
mantles for incandescent lamps, hardeners' in magnesium alloys, refractories,
and 
electronic and chemical applications. 
 The future prospects for thorium's use in nuclear fuels remained uncertain
in 1977. The only commercial thorium-fueled, hightemperature, gas-cooled
reactor (HTGR), located at Fort St. Vram, Cob., with a capacity of 330 megawatts,
reached almost 70% of power capacity in 1977. The experimental thorium-fueled,
light-water breeder reactor (LWBR), at Shippingport, Pa., reached full capacity
by yearend. 
 The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) began an evaluation of thorium resources
recoverable at costs of $30 and $50 per pound. 
DOMESTIC PRODUCTION 
 Exploration—Five deposits ' of heavy minerals containing thorium
were
reported~ in: ancient beach sands in Charleston County, S.C., by the USGS.
An aerial geophysical survey and preliminary ground checks indicated that
the deposits contain 2 million tons of potentially economic heavy minerals,
including monazite. The three largest deposits are 9 miles north of McClellanville,
9 miles southwest of Charleston, and 12 miles southwest of Charleston. 
 Buttes Gas and Oil Co. continued feasibility and pilot-plant studies of
its southwestern Colorado titanium prospect.3 The ore mineral perovskite
reportedly contains significant amounts of thorium that could be recovered.
 The USGS began studying thorium resources available at $30 and $50 per pound
for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).~ The first phase of the study, to
be completed in May 1978, was to assess better known deposits. The U.S. Bureau
of Mines provided mining and milling cost analyses for the USGS study. The
principal deposits to be studied included the vein deposits of the Wet Mountains,
Cob., Lemhi Pass, Idaho, and the Bokan Mountains, Ala.; massive 
carbonatites of the Powderhorn Pass district, Cob., and Mountain Pass district,
Calif.; deposits in fractured and brecciated rocks in Wyoming and illinois;
Piedmontstream placers of the Carolinas; and current monazite-producing areas
in northern Florida. Coproducts were also to be considered. 
 Mine Production.—Monazite, a thoriumcontaining, rare-earth, phosphate
mineral, was produced as a byproduct of processing beach sands for titanium
minerals in 1977. Two mines in Florida, Humphreys Mining Co., near Hilliard,,
and Titanium Enterprises, near Green Cove Springs, were the only domestic
producers of monazite. Humphreys Mining Co. continued to truck wet titanium
concentrates from its mine in Florida to the company's dry plant at Folkston,
Ga. 
Refinery Production—In 1977, there was only one domestic firm,
W. R.
Grace & Co., Davison Chemical Div., at Chattanooga, Tenn., with facilities
for processing large tonnages of monazite. Although W. R. Grace did not produce
any thorium compounds from monazite for sale, thorium was extracted from
monazite during the refining of rare-earth elements and stored. 
923 


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