Uranium could be sailing up to become the greatest producer of electricity in the world in the near future. Uranium that is currently in use is extracted from the solid ores containing uranium-rich minerals. Uranium ores are present in the states and all over the world. While some experts estimate that the uranium in these ores could last for approximately 700 years, others believe that it could last for about 5 billion years. This has become the basis for different arguments as to whether uranium is renewable or not.
Is uranium renewable or nonrenewable?
Uranium has been a subject of conflict in recent years as to whether it is renewable or nonrenewable. Those who support that it is renewable believe that the uranium available on earth can last for 5 billion years. They base their argument on the availability of plentiful uranium not only in the ore but also in seawater. On the other hand, those who argue that uranium is nonrenewable strongly believe that the available amount can only go for 700 years. From a geological perspective of “indefinite time”, 700 years do not qualify for the definition. An indefinite time is a very long time that could be equated to the time the sun can provide energy to the earth.
Uranium is renewable
Yes. Uranium is ultimately renewable. With proof that the available uranium is much enough to last 5 billion years, there would be no reason not to categorize uranium as a renewable resource. So now you could be wondering where the uranium that could last for such a long time exists. Well, a combination of the ore plus seawater will take uranium miners a very long way.
Uranium in seawater
Did you know that uranium is not only found in solid ores? Well, the seawater and the waters of the eroding earth crust by the river are a rich source of uranium. Think of seawater as a renewable resource. Just the same way that the water is renewable, its components are also renewable. Therefore, uranium is a component of seawater thus inexhaustible too.
For a number of years, the extraction of uranium from the abundant and renewable seawater has been a topic of interest. Serious investigations to determine the practical applicability of this phenomenon have been on the rise, with the United States leading in research. Japan and China are working to succeed in the extraction of uranium from the waters of the sea. And yes, research has found that there’s plenty of it in seawater. The only problem comes with extracting it.
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Extracting uranium from seawater
Basically, uranium can be extracted from the sea using a gel panel or some technology that involves fiber braids. Polyethylene fiber braids are used in association with a chemical known as amidoxime that separates uranium from seawater then binds it to the fiber braids. The diameter of the braids is often 15 centimeters while the length could vary depending on where the extraction is taking place. The fibers are then allowed to stay in seawater for about a month or so, after which they are brought to the surface for acidification to separate the uranium complex from the fibers.
The Oakridge national laboratory alongside other research bodies in the United States has managed to extract uranium from seawater. According to them, the cost of the extraction is too high and so they only extracted the uranium that was within their economic reach. This implies that if a higher cost, possibly higher than what is considered “high”, is involved, the supply of uranium would surpass that of any other mineral.
Uranium as a renewable power source
The nuclear energy obtained from uranium that has been extracted from seawater is renewable. Currently, there are approximately 4 billion tons of uranium available in seawater. When estimated, this amount of uranium could be used by nuclear power plants for about 100,000 years. Remember we are talking of the uranium that is presently available, and so as it continues to be extracted, it will get replaced continuously. Energy from uranium is thus as renewable just like the energy from wind or from water.
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Without considering the uranium from the ore, there is enough evidence that uranium from seawater is a renewable resource. Uranium miners only need to upgrade their technology and accept the higher cost involved in the extraction of seawater uranium. If matters are handled accordingly, the world will enjoy a limitless supply of energy, courtesy of uranium.
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