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Uranium Mining Underwater

The ocean has always inspired and supported the human race.

We have navigated across them, tapped into their power for energy generation, exploited their creatures for food and minerals for wealth, and we continue to explore their depths for answers to our questions about the planet.

Recent experiments have unveiled surprising amounts of uranium hidden beneath the waves. Oceans are estimated to have roughly 5 billion metric tons of uranium, which is a core element for nuclear power generation.

The uranium deposits are very diluted and to date there has been no commercially viable method to extract the precious material.

Uranium extraction from the ocean occurs by suspending 70m polymer braids in the sea for up to 60 days. The polymer braids are irradiated and coated in materials which uranium is attracted to. These braids are suspended in the water with support chains anchored to the sea floor. When the braids are retrieved they will have yellow tints of uranium adhered to them.

Erich Schneider, a nuclear engineer at the University of Texas says that 2 to 4 grams of uranium sticks can be made from 1 kilogram of polymer braid. It doesn’t sound like much, but Schneider says it will add up.

He made an analysis of the system and found that these braids can be reused six times but performance decreases by 5% from each previous use.

In the analysis he also estimated the Energy Return On Investment (EROI) of this technique. The EROI of uranium harvesting from the ocean was 22, whereas traditional mining has an EROI of 500.

Schneider is sure that as technology improves a more suitable substrate will be found for the polymers that will increase this EROI. He feels methods like this one will be a backup to traditional uranium mining techniques.

Sources
http://nextbigfuture.com/2012/09/path-to-affordable-uranium-from-seawater.html
http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-08/acs-aid072612.php

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