Tag Archives: James Conca

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There’s Uranium in Seawater. And it’s Renewable.

According to Natural Resources Canada, “renewable energy is energy obtained from natural resources that can be naturally replenished or renewed within a human lifespan.” This typically includes sunlight, wind and rain. Uranium has never made this list, as it is generally believed that uranium resources are finite. However this is not the case.

Researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory exposed this special uranium-adsorbing fiber developed at ORNL to Pseudomonas fluorescens and used the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory to create a 3-D X-ray microtomograph to determine microstructure and the effects of interactions with organisms and seawater. Courtesy of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory exposed this special uranium-adsorbing fiber developed at ORNL to pseudomonas fluorescens and used the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory to create a 3D x-ray microtomograph to determine microstructure and the effects of interactions with organisms and seawater. Source: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

While terrestrial uranium (the uranium we currently mine) is indeed limited in quantity, with known resources that will last another 100 years or so, there is uranium in seawater that naturally replenishes itself.

The uranium in seawater is controlled by steady-state chemical reactions between the water and rocks that contain uranium, such that whenever uranium is extracted from seawater, the same amount is leached from the rocks to replace it.

In fact, according to a Forbes Magazine article by James Conca, a scientist in the field of earth and environmental sciences, “it is impossible for humans to extract enough uranium to lower the overall seawater concentrations faster than it is replenished.”

Scientists envision anchoring hundreds of lengths of U-extracting fibers in the sea for a month or so until they fill with uranium. Then a wireless signal would release them to float to the surface where the uranium could be recovered and the fibers reused. It doesn’t matter where in the world the fibers are floating. Source: Andy Sproles at ORNL.
Scientists envision anchoring hundreds of lengths of uranium-extracting fibers in the sea for a month or so until they fill with uranium. Then a wireless signal would release them to float to the surface where the uranium could be recovered and the fibers reused. It doesn’t matter where in the world the fibers are floating. Source: Andy Sproles at ORNL.

Though the uranium concentration in seawater is only about 3 milligrams per cubic meter, the total volume of the ocean is about 1.37 billion cubic kilometers, which means there are about 4.5 billion tons of uranium in seawater at any given time.

There is currently a considerable amount of research being done on extracting uranium from seawater, most notably in Japan, China, and the United States. The latest technologies, which have emerged from Department of Energy’s (DOE) Pacific Northwest (PNNL) and Oak Ridge National Laboratories (ORNL), use polyethylene fibers coated with amidoxime to attract and bind uranium dioxide from seawater. These fiber braids are about 15 centimeters in diameter and can be several meters in length depending on where they are installed.

After a month or so, the fibers are brought to the surface, where they undergo an acid treatment that recovers the uranium and regenerates the fibers so that they can be reused.

“Finding alternatives to uranium ore mining is a necessary step in planning for the future of nuclear energy,” explained Stephen Kung at the DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy to Forbes Magazine. But making the process economical is equally important.

The advances by PNNL and ORNL have reduced the cost of extraction by a factor of four in just 5 years, but the cost is still about $200/lb compared to traditional uranium mining which ranges between $10 and $120/lb.

Fortunately, the cost of uranium is a very small percentage of the cost of nuclear power. Therefore even at $200/lb, the cost of nuclear power would not increase dramatically.

Researchers continue to seek more efficient and economic ways to extract uranium from seawater, because the amount of uranium is truly unlimited. It is renewable energy in every sense of the word, and should be considered alongside solar, wind and hydro.

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Nuclear Fear is Unscientific

By Romeo St-Martin
Communications Officer
Canadian Nuclear Association

Nuclear energy is safer than most people think, yet a fear factor persists.

A great new talking point in the media and politics in recent years has been the use of the term “evidence-based” policy.

The concept of evidence-based policy is taken from the scientific and medical world and argues that all government, social and economic policy should be based on rigorous empirical study, not popular public opinion.

The hope or belief is that such a method will result in the best possible public policy outcomes.

Perhaps no technology has to deal with the lack of evidence-based policy like nuclear energy.

Nuclear is safe, yet it is feared and in some cases hated. The industry is well aware of this.

In a recent blog post on Brave New Climate, Australian environmental writer Martin Nicholson explained it perfectly.

“When people express their nuclear hatred, they usually argue about: the dangers from radiation leaks, the risk of weapons proliferation, the nuclear waste problem, that nuclear power is too expensive and in any case we just don’t need it!,” he wrote.

“None of these reasons have solid scientific backing. If they did, countries around the world (like USA, UK, France, Finland, Russia, China, India, South Korea, UAE) would not continue to build new nuclear power plants to supply their growing need for energy.”

Nicholson’s blog post examined the issue of risk perception and nuclear based on a 2010 book by risk consultant David Ropeik.

In short, Ropeik argues that often times fear overcomes the facts based on a number of psychological factors and internal individual questions, such as “Is the risk natural or manmade?” (Solar radiation vs. nuclear radiation) or “Can it happen to me?”

According to Nicholson, the book tells us that risk perception is “an intrinsic, biologically rooted, inescapable part of how the human animal behaves.”

This gives environmentalists opposed to nuclear energy an edge in the public and media debate.

Many would have you believe that nuclear energy is the most dangerous or deadly energy source, when the facts show otherwise.

In June, Forbes columnist James Conca wrote about an energy source’s “death print,” which he defined as “the number of people killed by one kind of energy or another per kWhr produce.”

Based on research done by Next Big Future, when you factor in direct deaths and epidemiological estimates based on pollutants released, coal has by far the worst death print and wind and nuclear have the best.

The data shows that for every person killed by nuclear power generation, 4,025 will die due to coal based on energy produced.

Evidence-based policy would favour nuclear because TWh for TWh it is one of the safest energy sources.

Deaths per TWh of power produced
Deaths per TWh of power produced