Nuclear Power Dossier - Uranium Mining and Milling
1st June 2006
Remote, unregulated and...running out. Why the business of fuelling nuclear power can't give us energy sovereignty
Once construction is under way, the business of sourcing uranium to fuel the reactor starts. The problem is that uranium doesn’t sit neatly in the ground in ready-to-use packages, it has to be mined and milled – both environmentally destructive processes. While the element is found everywhere on earth, geological surveys show that most deposits of uranium are found in concentrations of about 0.02-0.01 per cent (200-100g per tonne of rock).
This means that round 9,800 tonnes of rock has to be mined and milled to give up one tonne of uranium. A standard 100mw/eh nuclear reactor requires in the region of 160 tonnes of uranium fuel – processed from around 16 million tonnes of rock – each year. At these levels of concentration, mining and milling uranium is uneconomic and uses more energy to recover than it will ultimately produce.
Uranium is taken from the earth like any other raw material: blasted and dug from open pits, causing thousands of tonnes of radioactive rock to be disturbed, the dust of which finds its way into water, plants, animals, fish and humans for hundreds of miles around. Sometimes these pits can be 250 metres deep....
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