Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Uranium is a Renewable Resource

Nuclear power is often contrasted with so called renewable resources, such as wind powered electrical generators, and solar powered generating systems. But this viewpoint fails to take into account the abundance of recoverable uranium. It can be argued that the Earth will become uninhabitable long before the supply of recoverable uranium. Furthermore at least one potential source of recoverable uranium will never run out of Uranium.

How is this possible?

Masao Tamada of the Japanese Atomic Energy Agency wrote a report in 2009, titled Current status of technology for collection of uranium from Seawater.
Tananda stated that,
The extremely huge amount of uranium dissolved in the seawater is 4.5 billion tons which is equivalent to a thousand times of that in the terrestrial ores. The uranium in seawater is expected as corresponding resource for increasing demand in the future for atomic power generation
Tamada. pointed out that research on uranium absorbing materials had been going on since the 1960's, and that the current cost of harvesting uranium from sea water was 32,000 yens (about 300 dollars per Kilogram. This is considerably more expensive than mining uranium, but at $300 per kg, nuclear generated electricity can still be very inexpensive. On addition other elements can be recovered from sea water, during Uranium recovery. It is however practically impossible to exhaust the dissolved uranium in sea water. Newly dissolved Uranium is constantly being brought into the sea by rivets, and devolved uranium may also flow into the sea from under water sources as well. Thus the supply of recoverable uranium in the sea water is for all practical purposes, inexhaustible.

Thus Uranium is a renewable resource because new uranium will be constantly flowing into the sea, to replace uranium recovered from sea water. If the earth and its human population endured forever, we would eventually run out of uranium. The earth and its human population will not endure forever, and there would still be uranium that could be recovered when we are gone. Uranium is a renewable resource.

Update 1: I received a critical email about this post this morning. While the commenter disagreed with my conclusion, it struck me that he had not found fault with my assumptions. Here is my response:

I admit that my conclusion is radical, and I have only recently arrived at it. I want to point out that I have been identified more with the idea that thorium is a sustainable resource rather than arguing for the sustainability of uranium. Thus I am most certainly not grinding an ax. I realize that my conclusion will take a while to sink in, Radical and new ideas usually do. I understand why your first responce is no way. I have been looking at all of the facts that I will set out for several years, and have only recently put them together in the way that led to the "uranium is renewable" conclusion.
These are the facts upon which I base my conclusions:
1. Japanese researchers have repeatedly
argued that dissolved uranium can be recovered from sea water at a ccst of around $300 per 1 kg. They hope to find ways to recover uranium from sea water at an even lower cost. You have not challenged this fact.
2. Dissolved uranium from terrestial sources continually flows into the seas. I believe that this amounts to about 32,000 tons of yellow cake per uear.
3. Uranium also enters the sea from other sources, which may include undersea volcanoes and under sea hot springs. This has not been verified yet as far as I know, but as speculations go this seems reasonable.
4. The uranium in the sea is at equilibrium. Added dissolved uranium causes other dissolved uranium to precipitate out of sea water. The uranium precipitation is deposited on the sea bottom, but may redissolve at some future time.
5. Volcanoes may add to terrestial uranium from time to time.

Conclusion: Uranium is a renewable resource for as long as the geological processes I have noted continue.

I challenge my readers to demonstrate the flaw or flaws in my reasoning.I intend to add this outline of my argument to my original post.

Update 2: One of my readers pointed out that I was not the first person to prepose the concept of uranium as a renewable resource. Bernard Cohen proposed the same idea thirty years ago in a refereed paper titled Breeder reactors: A renewable energy source. Since this is an important concept, I will review Cohen's paper, which advances many of the ideas I expressed in this post, in a far better way than I have.


Ronald Shapiro said...


Another way of looking at Seawater sourcing of Uranium is that once enriched this Uranium can be used to start a Thorium MSR/LFTR. Abundant and cheap a thorium MSR/DMSR/LFTR once started will leverage the more expensive Seawater Uranium.

Skipping Thorium altogether the MSR will operate more efficiently than in a LWR as we have seen your many postings.

As an aside to this post 'Welcome back Charles '. When I saw your postings stop for the period of your medical crises I was unaware as the other regulars readers of your blog until you returned. If I can speak for your readers I'm glad you back typos and all.

I'm indebted to you for all the knowledge I've gained thru your frequent postings.

I'll become a resident of Knoxville/Maryville when I retire in three years and would be glad to join your proposed East Tennessee Molten Salt Reactor Association.

Best Wishes

Anonymous said...

I read somewhere that enough dissolved uranium flows down the Rhone river into the Mediterranean each year to have kept the Superphenix reactor going indefinitely - if anyone could be bothered extracting it ,of course

Charles Barton said...

Ron, Thank you for tour kind words.

Charles Barton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dennis Peterson said...

Blogger says I don't have rights to access those reports...for anyone in the same fix, this looks like the same document:

Charles Barton said...

Dennis, Thank you for alerting me to the problem. It has been corrected.

Anonymous said...

Bernard Cohen argued this ages ago in the following article.

qraal said...

I made this point in my blog a couple times over the past 4 years...
...the 32,000 tons/year figure being a direct quote. But it wouldn't be "yellow cake" (UO8) massing that much, but straight uranium. The energy potential of the oceans is even bigger, though its renewal time is several millennia. There's at least 4 billion tons presently dissolved in the ocean.


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