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The most powerful mineral in the world, capable of saving lives or annihilating the planet, revealed: Uranium, the incredible radioactive material desired by global leaders for the production of energy and nuclear weapons

Written by Flavia Marinho
Published 15/06/2024 às 17:21
uranium - mineral - mining - ore - production - nuclear energy - nuclear
To obtain this precious mineral, miners must descend 500 meters below the surface, into one of the largest and richest uranium deposits in the world.

To obtain this precious mineral, miners must descend 500 meters below the surface, into one of the largest and richest uranium deposits in the world.

Extracting the Precious Metal: Uranium, a metallic element discovered by a German chemist in 1789, has become a crucial resource in the modern world. Its importance was only fully understood a century and a half later, when scientists discovered that uranium atoms could be split to produce energy.

To obtain this valuable resource, miners must descend 500 meters below the surface in one of the largest and richest uranium deposits in the world, located in northern Saskatchewan, Canada.

The uranium-containing mineral is located at a depth of 130 meters in the sandstone layer

The uranium-bearing mineral lies beneath a water-saturated sandstone layer. To access it, miners use tungsten carbide drill bits, similar to finger knots, to drill into the rock. These initial holes are for pipes that will extract heat from the ground and freeze the area around the mineral.

The miner operates the equipment remotely, transferring a new section of pipe every meter and a half, until reaching a depth of 130 meters in the mine. sandstone layer. This process can take up to 8 days to complete, and there are 200 of these tubes configured to surround the mineral deposit.

See how this powerful mineral is extracted from the mines

A surface freezing plant cools a calcium chloride brine solution to -30 degrees Celsius and distributes it through the freezing tubes. The brine absorbs heat as it freezes the surrounding ground, creating a stable, ice-encapsulated environment for miners to work. With the ground now stabilized, miners are ready to extract the mineral.

Refining Uranium

Using a pilot hole as a guide, miners drill a larger hole to access the uranium-bearing rock. The mineral, which contains approximately 15% uranium, is then loaded onto a cart and scanned to measure its radioactivity. The high-quality ore, with an average uranium content of around 18%, is then transported to a plant located 80 kilometers away.

At the plant, uranium-containing material is crushed and ground into a fine powder, which is then mixed with water to create a sludge. This mud is pumped to the surface, where it goes through a series of chemical processes to extract and purify the uranium. Uranium is first converted into gas, which is then fed into centrifuges to separate the isotope uranium-235, the key component in creating a chain reaction in nuclear reactors.

Transforming Uranium into Fuel

The enriched uranium powder is then converted into uranium trioxide, an intermediate chemical form in the fuel processing chain. This powder is transported to a nuclear fuel processing plant, where it is processed into uranium dioxide, the chemical form required for nuclear fuel.

The uranium dioxide powder is then pressed into small pellets using several tons of pressure. These peanut-sized pellets are then loaded into zirconium alloy tubes to create fuel rods. The fuel rods are then assembled into fuel assemblies, which are the key components that will be inserted into the core of a nuclear reactor.

Powering the Grid

Once the fuel assemblies are ready, they are transported to a nuclear power plant, where they will be loaded into the reactor core. Inside the reactor, uranium-235 atoms undergo fission, releasing energy in the form of heat. This heat is used to convert water into steam, which then drives turbines to generate electricity.

A single fuel assembly, containing approximately 30 fuel rods, can generate enough heat to power 100 homes for a year. Used fuel rods, which are highly radioactive and extremely hot, must be stored in pools filled with water for 10 years before they can be safely disposed of. These spent rods, numbering more than 700.000, are stored deep within the plant's storage facility, a testament to the immense power and potential of uranium as an energy source.

What is enriched uranium

Uranium atoms have several variants, called isotopes. They all have the same number of protons in the nucleus, but different numbers of neutrons. The uranium found in nature has a concentration of 99,27% ​​of the variant called U-238 and 0,72% of the U-235 variant, which is used as fuel and for weapons production.

Enriched uranium is that which has a high concentration of the U-235 variant. Enrichment is done by adding uranium hexafluoride gas to centrifuges that separate the isotope most suitable for nuclear fission, U-235.

Uranium with a low concentration of U-235 (3% to 5%) is used to produce fuel for nuclear power plants. The one with a concentration of at least 20% is normally used for research. Uranium with 90% U-235 can be used to produce nuclear weapons.

The journey of uranium is a complex and fascinating process

The journey of uranium, from its extraction deep within the earth to its transformation into nuclear fuel, is a complex and fascinating process. By understanding the meticulous steps involved in unleashing the power of this precious metal, we can better appreciate the critical role it plays in meeting the world's energy demands. As we continue to explore and harness the potential of uranium, we must do so with the utmost care and responsibility, ensuring the safety and sustainability of this vital resource for future generations.

I would love to know if you already knew about this powerful mineral. Tell us in the comments section what you think. Don't forget to leave 5 stars and activate CPG notifications to keep up with all the news in the world of mining. To the next!

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Flavia Marinho

Flavia Marinho is a Production Engineer with a postgraduate degree in Electrical and Automation Engineering, with extensive experience in the onshore and offshore shipbuilding industry. In recent years, she has dedicated herself to writing articles for news websites in the areas of industry, oil and gas, energy, shipbuilding, geopolitics, jobs and courses, with more than 7 thousand articles published. Her technical expertise and communication skills make her a respected reference in her field. Contact us to suggest an agenda, advertise job vacancies or advertise on our portal.

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