Uranium from ash

How awesome is nuclear power? You can extract nuclear fuel from coal ash:

ONE of the factoids trotted out from time to time by proponents of nuclear power is that conventional coal-burning power stations release more radioactivity into the environment than nuclear stations do. The reason is that the ash left over when coal is burned contains radioactive elements, notably uranium and thorium.

Turn that logic on its head and it suggests that such ash is worth investigating as a source of nuclear fuel. And that is exactly what Sparton Resources, a firm based in Toronto, is doing. It has signed a deal with the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC), the authority that runs the country’s nuclear-power stations, to recover uranium from coal ash at a site in Lincang, in Yunnan province.

Uranium is usually extracted from ore that contains 1,000 or more parts per million (ppm) of the element. The Lincang coal ash holds much less, about 300ppm. That said, it does not need to be mined—which brings costs down. Sparton says it can extract a kilogram of uranium for $77 or less. Uranium’s spot price is now near $90 a kilo. That is not a huge margin, but it is a profit nonetheless.

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