The Uranium Paradox: Reason To Favor Coal-Fired Electricity? Or Not?

As a bit of black humor (pun intended), here's evidence that coal burning can emit more radiation than well run nuclear plants*. One way to reduce this radiation exposure, apparently, is to extract the uranium found naturally in coal-generated fly ash - and process it into some nuclear fuel rods, where a proper job of risk management can then occur (unlike with coal plants).

A glance at the graphic tells you why this is happening.

The benefaction technology presents a weird synergy with coal burning. Sulfuric acid, which could be made with the sulfur or sulfur oxides extracted from the coal emissions, is used to leach out the uranium from fly-ash.

Sparton Resources Inc. reported today that its ongoing uranium extraction testing program has successfully produced a small amount of yellowcake (U3O8) from [coal based] fly ash samples taken from the China Guodian Xiaolongtang Thermal Power Plant in central Yunnan Province PRC). The test work is being done by the Company's processing engineering consulting firm Lyntek Inc. of Denver, Colorado, USA. Yellowcake (U3O8) is the uranium compound produced and sold by most uranium producers and is the uranium bearing raw material whose price is quoted in international markets.This test, the first one to attempt to produce yellowcake, was qualitative in nature and used 6.1 kg of mixed fly ash currently being produced by the old and new burners at the Xiaolongtang station. The ash averaged about 160 ppm U or 0.40 lb/tonne U3O8.

One other thing learned from doing this post is that Canada has a very high stake in the use of nuclear power to combat climate change: it is the worlds leading uranium producer!

This test has made clear that production of yellowcake can be done easily with fly ash. Does this mean that fly-ash access presents a security issue? Just remembering the infamous Niger Yellowcake Letter.

* Yes, we realize that U308 (the natural ore form) may not, by itself, be viewed as posing a significant radiation hazard. But the decay sequence of uranium involves other nasties such as radium which certainly are a hazard.

Via::Market Wire, "First Yellow Cake Produced From Xiaolongtang Coal Ash, China-Test Work Continues" Image credit::Anglo Canadian Uranium, "Ux U3O8 vs. 30-Week Moving Average Prices" and "Top 10 Uranium Producing Countries"

Tags: Australia | Canada | China | Coal