Seawater Can Provide Nuclear Power Plants With Almost Endless Uranium
Seawater, believe it or not, holds trace amounts of uranium in it. In fact, every litre of it everywhere contains about a grain of salt’s worth of uranium. Published int eh journal Nature Energy, researchers from Stanford detailed their way of extracting this uranium which could then be used to power nuclear plants.
This would come as a great alternative to actually having to mine it from the ground and then refine it too. And before you say anything, yes, more nuclear power plants are needed even in the most optimistic forecasts of the future and taking into account future technological developments.
“The oceans are so vast that if we can extract these trace amounts cost effectively, the supply would be endless,” Yi Cui, a Stanford materials scientist, said in a statement.
In an estimate from 2016, it is believed that the world’s oceans hold about 4 billion tonnes of uranium. This would be enough to power the entire world for over 10,000 years. This fortunate turn of events can hold a great deal of promise for countries that do not posses viable mineral resources to mine and combat climate change.
“We need nuclear power as a bridge toward a post-fossil-fuel future,” said Professor Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and co-author of the study. “Seawater extraction gives countries that don’t have land-based uranium the security that comes from knowing they’ll have the raw material to meet their energy needs.”
This idea, however, isn’t brand new, it beeing studied in the past in both Asia and by the Department of Energy in the US. The researchers at Stanford, however, have made huge strides in analysing the actual technique of extracting the uranium from seawater.
They way they went about it was to use dipping some plastic fibres coated with a substance called anidoxime directly into the seawater. Uranium mixes with this water and combines with the oxygen to form uranyl ions. These ions stick to these fibres on contact. By creating a hybrid amidoxime-carbon fibre and then sending electric pulses through it, it raised a number of ions collected, at a greater speed and with the ability to reuse those fibres again. The testing was carried out at Half Moon Bay, in Nothern California.
“We have a lot of work to do still but these are big steps toward practicality,” Cui said.