Petrographic Relationships Between Mineral Phases and Bitumen in the Oklo Proterozoic Natural Fission Reactors, Gabon

John Parnell
School of Geosciences, Queen's University of Belfast, Belfast BT7 1NN, UK

Abstract: Several of the Proterozoic natural fission reactors at Oklo, Gabon contain abundant organic matter (bitumen), with which much of the reactor uranium is associated. An understanding of the petrography of the bitumen is important in assessing its role in element retention following fissiogenic reactions. The bitumen is replacive and includes vestiges of detrital grains and clays of the host sandstones. It also contains several generations of mineral phases related to the migration of uranium and daughter lead, and other elements mobilized by hydrothermal activity in the reactor zones. The minerals include (primary) uraninite precipitated after reduction of uranium by organic matter, silicates concentrated in radiation halos around the uraninite, and native lead, galena and further uraninite which migrated from the primary uraninite. The silicates are illitic clays in the immediate vicinity of the reactors, and chloritic more distant from the reactors. Authigenic clays in radiation halos are compositionally distinct from earlier host rock clays. Local migration of uranium and lead is evident as dispersion of the elements through the radiation halos; cross-cutting veinlets of uraninite, native lead and galena, including veinlets extending directly from the primary uraninite crystals; and concentrations of the elements at the margins of bitumen masses. The limit of observed uranium dispersion is within clay immediately beyond the bitumen margins.

Keywords: natural fission reactors • bitumen • uranium • Oklo • Gabon

Mineralogical Magazine; August 1996 v. 60; no. 401; p. 581-593; DOI: 10.1180/minmag.1996.060.401.04
© 1996, The Mineralogical Society
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