Extracting uranium from sea water – a new “wave” of nuclear power

  • iStock_000000821494MediumUranium, a material used to fuel nuclear reactors, could now be harvested from the ocean. Whilst the concentration in oceans is incredibly low, it is estimated that the worlds oceans hold up to 4.5 billion tons of uranium – which researchers claim could be enough keep our nuclear power plants running for over 6,000 years.
  • Whilst the concept of ocean-harvesting is not new, it has become more feasible thanks to a material developed by a team led by the US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
  • The material, HiCap (from high-capacity), outperforms today’s adsorbents, which perform surface retention of solid or gas molecules, atoms or ions. Specifically, the adsorption capacity is seven times higher in spiked solutions containing 6 parts per million of uranium at 20°C.
  • In seawater, the capacity of 3.94 grams of uranium per kilogram of adsorbent was more than five times higher than the world’s best at 0.74 grams of uranium per kilogram of adsorbent. The numbers for selectivity were shown to be seven times higher. “These results clearly demonstrate that higher surface area fibers translate to higher capacity”.

Again, whilst the idea is not new, the increased adsorption capacity of uranium harvesting now means that the technology is far more feasible.  As such, this could expand reserves for currently limited sources of energy. Further, whilst cost of uranium ore is only a minor input into the cost of nuclear power, efficient seawater uranium extraction may contribute to  energy security in the king term. Any country with coastline could be considered to have “uranium security”.

For more information, visit: http://tinyurl.com/9uztrfd; http://tinyurl.com/9734xzw

About Joao Delgado

Joao is a Research Fellow in Futures Research and leads on medium-large scale futures projects at CERF. Amongst other projects, he has led the development of scenarios for the future of river basin management for the Environment Agency. His professional interests include veterinary science, epidemiology, risk and systems thinking.
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