While reading this Guardian article, this claim stood out to me:

The territory is home to a quarter of the world’s known nickel, a key component in the manufacture of rechargeable batteries, coins and stainless steel.

But according to the Mineral Commodity Summaries 2017 from the US Geological Survey, it has about 8.5% (= 6,700,000/78,000,000).

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Is there is any merit for the 25% cited in the Guardian article?

  • 1
    From your USGS link, it seems that Australia has about 25% of the world's nickel reserves. Perhaps when the author mentioned 'the territory' in "The territory is home to a quarter..." he meant all of Oceania and not just New Caledonia.
    – Giter
    Mar 19, 2018 at 17:50
  • 1
    I think the term is" proven reserves" which is somewhat of a judgement call . As in the case for oil: the "proven reserves" have been about to run out since about 1900. Mar 20, 2018 at 4:16
  • "proven reserves" then becomes an analogue for "current economic extraction/investigation", meaning that people in New Caledonia are interested in nickel - but there may well be a lot elsewhere that people haven't bothered dig up yet as they have other economic pursuits (that maybe new caledonians don't have) Mar 21, 2018 at 4:58
  • In response to the comments above, the report uses the following definition: "Reserves.—That part of the reserve base which could be economically extracted or produced at the time of determination. The term reserves need not signify that extraction facilities are in place and operative. Reserves include only recoverable materials; thus, terms such as “extractable reserves” and “recoverable reserves” are redundant and are not a part of this classification system"
    – Oddthinking
    Mar 21, 2018 at 12:02
  • Just to clarify comments above, "could be economically extracted" means that cost of extraction exceeds the market price. If there is a known deposit, but getting nickel out of it would cost too much, it would not count as reserves. As market price increases, that can change, so reported reserves increase.
    – Bald Bear
    Mar 21, 2018 at 14:09

1 Answer 1


The USGS estimates for reserves vary from year to year, depending upon nickel price, and have definitely been over 10% some years (see 2014 ; 2015 ; 2016). 16% is the highest I see so far from USGS.

However, the most recent (2018) USGS estimate is zero.

The USGS adds a footnote to the "zero" estimate:

the leading producer reported zero reserves owing to recent nickel prices

A more complete explanation is in the USGS article The Mineral Industry of New Caledonia 2014 Minerals Yearbook:

About one-third of the land surface of New Caledonia’s main island, Grande Terre, consists of massifs containing peridotite. The country’s nickel resources account for about 25% of the world’s total. As of 2014, about two-thirds of the mineralized zones were conceded to mine operators and one-half of them had been subject to indepth research. More than 1,700 mining titles were owned by approximately 50 holders. The nickel reserves in New Caledonia accounted for 15% of the world’s nickel reserves, and the mine output accounted for 7% of the world’s nickel production (SMSP Group, 2014, p. 10; Direction de l’Industrie, des Mines et de l’Energie de la Nouvelle-Calédonie, 2015d; Kuck, 2015).

In other worlds, just considering how much known nickel is there ("resources"), it is 25%, but considering how much could be mined without losing money ("reserves"), it was 15%.

So basically the nickel in the territory is more expensive to mine relative to other places. 25% of the nickel is there, but currently no economically mineable nickel is there.

  • What does "reserves" mean though? Given the fluctuation between 16% and 0 I suspect it means a stockpile of mined ore/refined metal held in reserve to insure against market forces, whereas I suspect the OP is taking "reserve" to mean the potential amount of nickel that could be extracted.
    – GordonM
    Mar 21, 2018 at 15:02
  • @GordonM It is not a stockpile. It is the amount in the ground that could be mined economically under the present economic circumstances. See also Oddthinking's quotation of the definition in his comment under the question.
    – DavePhD
    Mar 21, 2018 at 15:21
  • OK, glad that's cleared up! Still seems odd to me that it would fluctuate so wildly though
    – GordonM
    Mar 21, 2018 at 19:05
  • Ore prices do vary widely. As a different example I know more about, iron ore prices were $70/t around 2008, then fell to around $35/t by 2010 due to decreased demand due to financial crisis. A lot of Australia's iron ore reserves break even at $45/t. So the price drop would have massively shrunk the volume of economically available iron, even though it was still known and in the ground. Mar 22, 2018 at 6:17
  • I'm going to hold off on accepting this to see if there are anymore answers or ideas. But if I understand correctly is that at one point of time New Caledonia had up to a quarter of economically mineable nickel in the world, and that is what the guardian is quoting. Mar 22, 2018 at 10:50

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