Uranium is a silvery white colored metallic element which is denoted with symbol U in the periodic table and its atomic number is 92. Uranium is obtained in the form of ore through mining and its main use is as fuel for nuclear power plants. Kazakhstan, Canada and Australia are the top three uranium producing countries and their combined production accounts more than 60% of world’s production. Other important countries which produce uranium are USA, Russia, Namibia, Niger, Uzbekistan etc. Each of these countries production exceeds 1000 tonnes per year.
Uranium mining can be done in several ways like underground mining, open cast mining, pit mining, box mining, in-site leaching or bore hole mining etc. After mining, uranium ore is grinded to uniform particles and purified via chemical process known as chemical leaching. This process will yield dry yellow colored power which consists of natural uranium. This powder is famous with name yellow cake (contains more than 75% of U3O8) and it is sold as U3O8. Until World War 2, the purpose of mining of uranium ore is for radium, which is useful in watch dials and medical industry. The boom for Uranium started after 2nd world war and all the countries started exploring for Uranium reserves. People know mining of Uranium in the form of Uraninite in the 17th century itself but the applications and usage of uranium raised rapidly after World War 2 only.
With more than 30% of world reserves, Australia stood at number one position in terms of Uranium reserves. With 12% and 9% reserves, Kazakhstan and Canada stood at 2nd and 3rd positions respectively. Russia, South Africa, Namibia, Brazil, Niger and USA are the next in order. The most parts of Greenland, Canada, Antarctica region, Siberia etc. are not yet fully exploited due to crystalline soil nature and this list may change whenever substantial new reserves of Uranium are found. Because of its vast usage in military applications and nuclear reactors, the trade of Uranium is considered illegal with out proper authentication. The pricing of uranium (U3O8) varied from 7USD/lb (2001) to 113USD/lb (2007).
Enriched Uranium (U-235 isotope) weighing 15lb is used in Nuclear Bombing (Little Boy) on Hiroshima during World war-2 and the energy released was equivalent to 12,500 tonnes of TNT. Long exposure to Uranium will cause serious health issues like aplastic anemia, lung diseases, bone marrow diseases etc. Hence trained miners with proper safety equipment only are allowed to work in Uranium mines. This increases the cost of production of Uranium ore. Only high grade Uranium ore extraction is profitable and thus it is over exploited and much of the low quality reserves are yet to be exploited.
World’s largest deposit of Uranium is also located in Australia. Sea Water can also become a major source of uranium with more than 4.6 billion tonnes of uranium in future. Efficient and quality methods are yet to be discovered to extract Uranium from sea water. It is estimated that the discovered reserves are sufficient to meet the Uranium demands for next 100 years.Latest Trends:
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