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April 04 2012

19:40

January 09 2012

20:33

Salazar Signs Grand Canyon Mining Ban

The interior secretary says that jobs in tourism and outdoor recreation far outweigh the potential loss of employment from limiting mining in the region.

December 19 2011

18:11

A Uranium Project in the Political Cross Hairs

The House speaker wants President Obama to make good on a campaign pledge to aid a uranium initiative in Ohio but stops short of backing an earmark for that purpose.

March 17 2011

16:23

December 27 2010

21:03

In the Job-Starved West, a Debate Over Uranium's Legacy

Is uranium a victim of emotional prejudice or a dangerous and unwelcome energy source?

September 17 2010

14:14

Enough Uranium for Now, Analysts Say

A study by M.I.T. suggests that uranium supplies should suffice for new reactor construction but warns against building factories that prepare plutonium for reuse.

June 23 2010

13:30

Bridging 2 Kinds of Reactors

In the 1990s, Seth Grae set out to sell a reactor fueled with thorium, which is more plentiful than uranium. But along the way, his company also designed a component for thorium reactors that it says would be useful in conventional uranium reactors as well.

May 21 2010

19:29

April 11 2010

10:00

One man’s waste is another man’s… uranium?

Novel sources of uranium: Rising from the ashes | The Economist.

Waste not, want not:

ONE of the factoids trotted out from time to time by proponents of nuclear power is that conventional coal-burning power stations release more radioactivity into the environment than nuclear stations do. The reason is that the ash left over when coal is burned contains radioactive elements, notably uranium and thorium.

Turn that logic on its head and it suggests that such ash is worth investigating as a source of nuclear fuel.

OK, so what’s the point? Cost-benefit, baby!

Uranium is usually extracted from ore that contains 1,000 or more parts per million (ppm) of the element. The Lincang coal ash holds much less, about 300ppm. That said, it does not need to be mined—which brings costs down. Sparton says it can extract a kilogram of uranium for $77 or less. Uranium’s spot price is now near $90 a kilo. That is not a huge margin, but it is a profit nonetheless.

Hmm, interesting. Combustion waste is used as an input of another production process. And there’s more:

NUKEM, a German-American company that enriches and sells nuclear fuel, hopes soon to begin “mining” fertiliser in Florida.

Fertiliser? Man, one of these days we’ll have cabbages glowing in the dark. But it gets weirder still:

Some people are even turning to seawater as a source of uranium, in an eerie recapitulation of Fritz Haber’s attempt to pay off Germany’s first-world-war debts by extracting gold from the ocean. (…) the element can be sucked out of it by ion exchange.

Several organisations, including Japan’s Atomic Energy Agency and the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in India, are attempting to do so.

At this stage, one needs to wonder about that cost-benefit analysis again:

At the moment, this process costs more than ten times as much as conventional mining

OK, it is clear this is deeply uneconomic then. So it beggars the question: why? The answer is energy security:

China is developing ash-mining for reasons of energy security more than economics, according to Wang Hongfang, a marketing manager at CNNC. The country wants to get uranium from “every possible channel”

some countries might regard that as a small price to pay for security of supply

Several reflections on this: first, what is the energy balance of these methods? The endeavours sound somewhat energy-intensive, so if more energy needs to go into extracting uranium than the energy it produces, it’s worthless. Either way, nuclear power is so efficient it may make some sense.

The other is that countries feel a pinch. The steep prices paid for these methods mean the insurance value of uranium is high – the difference for the conventionally-mined stuff is a premium on availability. Does that mean countries expect constraints? That they fear someone may corner the market? That they distrust regulators such as the IAEA?

And that leads us nicely into the third reflection:

Perish the thought that the supply is for anything other than providing fuel for civilian nuclear-power stations.

How controllable are these methods, once expanded, scaled and “democratised”?

Punchline: interesting, but asking more  questions than the ones it answers. For once, even I fear the result of progress.


November 25 2009

15:10

Canada and India Resume Nuclear Energy Trade

Thirty-five years after Canada slapped sanctions on India for using a reactor to help detonate a nuclear warhead, the two countries agreed to resume fuel-grade uranium sales.
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