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NEWS
Seawater Produces First Grams of Yellowcake
June 18, 2018

For the first time, researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and LCW Supercritical Technologies have created five grams of yellowcake — a powdered form of uranium used to produce fuel for nuclear power production — using acrylic fibers to extract it from seawater.


Material designed to capture uranium from seawater as an alternative to land-based mining of the fuel for nuclear power production is tested at PNNL's Marine Sciences Laboratory. Credit: PNNL

“This is a significant milestone,” said Gary Gill, a researcher at PNNL, a Department of Energy national laboratory, and the only one with a marine research facility, located in Sequim, Wash. “It indicates that this approach can eventually provide commercially attractive nuclear fuel derived from the oceans — the largest source of uranium on earth.”

LCW with early support from PNNL through DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy, developed an acrylic fiber which attracts and holds on to dissolved uranium naturally present in ocean water.

The adsorbent material is inexpensive, according to Chien Wai, president of LCW Supercritical Technologies. In fact, he said, even waste yarn can be used to create the polymer fiber. The adsorbent properties of the material are reversible, and the captured uranium is easily released to be processed into yellowcake. An analysis of the technology suggests that it could be competitive with the cost of uranium produced through land-based mining.

According to information, Gill notes that seawater contains about three parts per billion of uranium. It’s estimated that there is at least four billion tons of uranium in seawater, which is about 500 times the amount of uranium known to exist in land-based ores, which must be mined.

The adsorbent technology is in the process of being licensed to LCW.


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