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Sea water uranium source plan

Sea water could one day become an abundant source of nuclear fuel, new research suggests.

Experts estimate that the oceans contain billions of tonnes of uranium that could be used in nuclear power stations. So far, however, it has proved too difficult to extract.

A US team is now developing special chemicals that can “grab” uranium ions - electrically charged molecules - from seawater.

Currently uranium is extracted from scarce solid ores such as uraninite.

Scripps Research Institute team member Dr Orion Berryman said: “There is about 4.5bn.t of dissolved uranium in the ocean. This is nearly 1,000 times more than the terrestrial uranium sources in the western world.

“Our work addresses the challenges of uranium extraction from a unique perspective - isolating the uranium atom from its native environment through encapsulation.”

The scientists are creating “ligands” - chemicals that bind to specific molecules - with a high affinity for uranium.

The hope is that the research will lead to economical ways of extracting uranium from the oceans.

Seawater contains uranium at a concentration of just 0.003 parts-per-m, compared with 20,000 parts-per-m in high-grade uranium ore.

However the volume of the world’s oceans is so huge that seawater could still provide almost limitless amounts of the precious metal, say the scientists.

The research appears in the journal Chemical Science, published by the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Readers' comments (1)

  • Is Dr ORION Berryman in a galexy of his own or is he taking the urinite out of the rest of us. Sorry uraniumite, or is it uranite, yes. Seawater also contains millions of tonnes of gold, copper and also SALT. Perhaps Dr Berryman could devise a means of extracting salt and putting it in my local grit bin, still empty from last winter. As for uranium we have several thousand tonnes of depeted uranium and thousand tonnes of U235, worldwide, that could fuel all existing and projected nuclear power stations for hundreds of years. We are not lacking uranium, salt is another matter. Stock up now, winter is just round the corner. Salt that is, not uranium.

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