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Uranium was discovered in 1789 by German chemist Martin Klaproth while analysing
from the Joachimsal silver mines in the present day Czech Republic. Apart from its value to
chemists, the only significant use for uranium throughout the 1800s was to colour glass and
ceramics. Uranium compounds were used to give vases and decorative glassware a yellow-
green colour. Ceramic glazes ranging from orange to bright red were used on items as
varied as household crockery and architectural decorations. Uraniums radioactive properties
were not noticed until 1896. French scientist Henri Becquerel did not realize the full
significance of his discovery, but one of his students, Marie Curie, correctly interpreted his
results and chose the name radioactivity for the new phenomenon. Working with her
husband Pierre, Marie Curie went on to discover another new element, radium, in 1898. The
Curies had to use tonnes of uranium ore to obtain even a fraction of a gram of this new
element. Radium was felt to be a miracle cure for cancer and commanded prices as high as
$75,000 per ounce until the bottom fell out of the market in the late 1930s.

Uranium mining is the process of extraction of uranium ore from the ground.. The
worldwide production of uranium in 2015 amounted to 60,496 tonnes. Kazakhstan, Canada,
and Australia are the top three producers and together account for 70% of world uranium
production. Other important uranium producing countries in excess of 1,000 tons per year
are Niger, Russia, Namibia, Uzbekistan, China, the United States and Ukraine.

Uranium from mining is used almost entirely as fuel for nuclear power plants.
Uranium ores are normally processed by grinding the ore materials to a uniform particle size
and then treating the ore to extract the uranium by chemical leaching. The milling process
commonly yields dry powder-form material consisting of natural uranium, "yellowcake,"
which is sold on the uranium market as U3O8.

Mining techniques

Open pit

Rssing open pit uranium mine, Namibia

In open pit mining, overburden is removed by drilling and blasting to expose the ore body,
which is then mined by blasting and excavation using loaders and dump trucks. Workers
spend much time in enclosed cabins thus limiting exposure to radiation. Water is extensively
used to suppress airborne dust levels.

Underground uranium mining

Underground uranium mining is using similar principle with other hard rock mining and ores
that often mined in association (e.g., copper, gold, silver). An underground mine might be
used with tunnels and shafts dug to access and remove uranium ore. There is less waste
material removed from underground mines than open pit mines, however this type of mining
exposes underground workers to the highest levels of radon gas.

Once the ore body has been identified a shaft is sunk in the vicinity of the ore veins, and
crosscuts are driven horizontally to the veins at various levels, usually every 100 to 150
metres. Similar tunnels, known as drifts, are driven along the ore veins from the crosscut. To
extract the ore, the next step is to drive tunnels, known as raises when driven upwards and
winzes when driven downwards, through the deposit from level to level. Raises are
subsequently used to develop the stopes where the ore is mined from the veins.

Heap leaching
Heap leaching is an extraction process by which chemicals (usually sulfuric acid) are used to
extract the economic element from ore which has been mined and placed in piles on the
surface. Heap leaching is generally economically feasible only for oxide ore deposits.
Oxidation of sulfide deposits occurs during the geological process called weathering.

Therefore, oxide ore deposits are typically found close to the surface. If there are no other
economic elements within the ore a mine might choose to extract the uranium using a
leaching agent, usually a low molar sulfuric acid. If the economic and geological conditions
are right, the mining company will level large areas of land with a small gradient, layering it
with thick plastic, sometimes with clay, silt or sand beneath the plastic liner.

The extracted ore will typically be run through a crusher and placed in heaps atop the
plasticThe uranium concentrations within the solution are very important for the efficient
separation of pure uranium from the acid. As different heaps will yield different
concentrations the solution is pumped to a mixing plant that is carefully monitored. The
properly balanced solution is then pumped into a processing plant where the Uranium is
separated from the sulfuric acid. Heap leach is significantly cheaper than traditional milling

In-situ leaching

Trial well field for in-situ recovery at Honeymoon, South Australia

In-situ leaching (ISL), also known as solution mining, involves leaving the ore where it is in
the ground, and recovering the minerals from it by dissolving them and pumping the
pregnant solution to the surface where the minerals can be recovered.

Consequently, there is little surface disturbance and no tailings or waste rock generated.
However, the orebody needs to be permeable to the liquids used, and located so that they
do not contaminate ground water away from the orebody. Uranium ISL uses the native
groundwater in the orebody which is fortified with a complexing agent and in most cases an
oxidant. It is then pumped through the underground orebody to recover the minerals in it by
leaching. Once the pregnant solution is returned to the surface, the uranium is recovered in
much the same way as in any other uranium plant (mill).

Recovery from seawater

. One method of extracting uranium from seawater is using a uranium-specific nonwoven
fabric as an adsorbent The uranium concentration of sea water is low, approximately 3.3
parts per billion or 3.3 micrograms per liter of seawater. But the quantity of this resource is
gigantic and some scientists believe this resource is practically limitless with respect to
world-wide demand. Uranium adsorption capacity of the polymer fiber adsorbent is high,
approximately tenfold greater in comparison to the conventional titanium oxide adsorbent.


An orebody is, by definition, an occurrence of mineralisation from which the metal is

economically recoverable. It is therefore relative to both costs of extraction and market
prices. At present neither the oceans nor any granites are orebodies, but conceivably either
could become so if prices were to rise sufficiently. Measured resources of uranium, the
amount known to be economically recoverable from orebodies, are thus also relative to costs
and prices. They are also dependent on the intensity of past exploration effort, and are
basically a statement about what is known rather than what is there in the Earth's crust
epistemology rather than geology. See section below for mineral resource and reserve

Changes in costs or prices, or further exploration, may alter measured resource figures
markedly. At ten times the current price*, seawater might become a potential source of vast
amounts of uranium. Thus, any predictions of the future availability of any mineral, including
uranium, which are based on current cost and price data and current geological knowledge
are likely to be extremely conservative. US DOE-funded work using polymer absorbent strips
suggest $610/kgU in 2014. Japanese (JAERI) research in 2002 using a polymeric absorbent
in a nonwoven fabric containing an amidoxime group that was capable of forming a complex
with uranyl tricarbonate ions, suggested about $300/kgU.

From time to time concerns are raised that the known resources might be insufficient when
judged as a multiple of present rate of use. But this is the Limits to Growth fallacy, a major
intellectual blunder recycled from the 1970s, which takes no account of the very limited
nature of the knowledge we have at any time of what is actually in the Earth's crust. Our
knowledge of geology is such that we can be confident that identified resources of metal
minerals are a small fraction of what is there. Factors affecting the supply of resources are
discussed further and illustrated below.
This is a list of countries by uranium production in 2015 :

Uranium Production
Uranium production Percentage of
Rank Country/Region (2015) World Production
(thousands pounds
(tonnes U)[1] (2015)
World 60,496 139,513 100
1 Kazakhstan 23,800 46,284 39.3
2 Canada 13,325 25,434 22.0
3 Australia 5,654 15,339 9.3
4 Niger 4,116 10,914 6.8
5 Russia 3,055 1,516 5.0
6 Namibia 2,993 11,689 4.9
7 Uzbekistan 2,385 6,239 3.9
8 China 1,616 2,150 2.7
9 United States 1,256 4,316 2.1
10 Ukraine 1,200 2,210 2.0
11 South Africa 393 2,210 0.6
12 India 385 1,040 0.6
13 155 660 0.3
14 Romania 77[3] 200 0.1
15 Pakistan 45 117 0.1
16 Brazil 40 385 0.1
17 France 2 18 0.0


"World Uranium Mining". World Nuclear Association. Retrieved 2017-01-29.

"World Uranium Production & Requirements". TradeTech. Retrieved 2016-03-20.