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Improving Uranium Extraction From Seawater, Inspired by Shrimp

Unknown Lamer posted about 2 years ago | from the unlimited-uranium-biscuts-at-red-lobster dept.

Power 122

New submitter Celarent Darii writes "Prospects for harvesting Uranium from seawater turned interesting by using shrimp shells as a sort of catalyst." Researchers at ORNL presented their findings from a test of a chitin net for harvesting Uranium at the ACS fall meeting. From the ORNL press release: "In a direct comparison to the current state-of-the-art adsorbent, HiCap provides significantly higher uranium adsorption capacity, faster uptake and higher selectivity, according to test results. Specifically, HiCap's adsorption capacity is seven times higher (146 vs. 22 grams of uranium per kilogram of adsorbent) in spiked solutions containing 6 parts per million of uranium at 20 degrees Celsius. In seawater, HiCap's adsorption capacity of 3.94 grams of uranium per kilogram of adsorbent was more than five times higher than the world's best at 0.74 grams of uranium per kilogram of adsorbent. The numbers for selectivity showed HiCap to be seven times higher."

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If shrimp purchases indicate proliferation (3, Funny)

Ukab the Great (87152) | about 2 years ago | (#41081795)

Then Vegas is acquiring it's own nuclear arsenal.

Re:If shrimp purchases indicate proliferation (2)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 2 years ago | (#41081849)

Looks at pile of shrimp.

Gets Geiger Counter.

Really, who knew these little things were so dangerous?

Re:If shrimp purchases indicate proliferation (2)

cayenne8 (626475) | about 2 years ago | (#41082261)

Hmm..that explains it, it IS a hidden agenda conspiracy!!!

It appears the giant Tiger Shrimp, from the orient...is invading [cbsnews.com] the gulf coast of the US...the much larger variety could endanger the native, smaller (and very tasty) gulf shrimps.

So, I get it...the govt is trying to introduce these larger shrimp, to use their larger and more plentiful shells to get more Uranium!?!?!?

Energy at the expense of our seafood!!!

:)

Re:If shrimp purchases indicate proliferation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41084879)

Used to be tastier. Now the gulf shrimps taste like spilled BP crude.

Re:If shrimp purchases indicate proliferation (1)

cayenne8 (626475) | about 2 years ago | (#41085241)

Used to be tastier. Now the gulf shrimps taste like spilled BP crude.

Nah..not at all. Gulf seafood is perfectly fine and tastes great. Hell, it is the single MOST tested food pretty much ever since the spill.

On the other hand...I used to joke right after the spill, that it would be kinda cool to be able to throw some shrimp on in the skillet to saute without having to oil the pan first...self-lubricating shrimp.

:)

But seriously, the Gulf seafood is just fine and has been for a LONG time. Hell, I can't wait for oyster season!!!

Re:If shrimp purchases indicate proliferation (1)

tnk1 (899206) | about 2 years ago | (#41081855)

It's all part of Mr. House's master plan for the coming apocalypse.

Re:If shrimp purchases indicate proliferation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41082667)

New Vegas, here I come!

Re:If shrimp purchases indicate proliferation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41082689)

There have been many misleading articles here lately. PU238 instead of 230? What kind of junk science was that? Deliberate noise to bury truth? It could be tiime to do away with submissions from new users and put stories from new submitters through better screening? (hoping this site wasn't bought by MS and the nuclear industry)

What;s discussed in this one is suitable for water purification, not for providing fuel. Material in shrimp doesn't tell you where it came from unless a footprint is formed with other measurable compounds.
An alpha detecting counter will read from most sunflower seeds, but it doesn't tell you if the cesium the plant leached from the soil got there from cold-war atmospheric testing, Fukushima, Chernobyl, the accident covered up in 1981, or something else.

Re:If shrimp purchases indicate proliferation (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41083971)

An alpha detecting counter will read from most sunflower seeds, but it doesn't tell you if the cesium the plant leached from the soil got there from cold-war atmospheric testing, Fukushima, Chernobyl, the accident covered up in 1981, or something else.

That is why when doing such work you don't just use a counter, you use some kind of energy spectrometer. From this you can get the type and energy of the radiation, which pretty quickly identifies most isotopes. Isotopic composition quickly narrows down possible sources.

(By the way, an alpha counter won't tell you about cesium in plants... as no cesium isotopes that last longer than a few seconds emit alpha particles. Most cesium decays involve positive or negative beta decay, with negative beta decays for the typically proton deficient nuclei produced by fission byproducts.)

But...? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41081833)

...there's tonnes of Uranium around! You mine it easily - it's not so rare that you need to go looking in seawater.

Now if the shells selectively captured the Uranium-235 isotope, that WOULD be useful....

Re:But...? (5, Insightful)

drwho (4190) | about 2 years ago | (#41082041)

Yes, there is lots of uranium around. But it's locked up in mines, in places such as Niger which are unstable. Japan investigated this seawater uranium source because it wanted a stable source of uranium - one that would not depend on vagaries of geology, mining, and international politics. Because seawater contains approximately the same amount of uranium throughout the world, there is no need to get the uranium - they would let the uranium come to them, via ocean currents. Its a viable idea, even before this newest chitin invention. From what I remember, the cost of ocean uranium recovery was only twice what the market price of uranium was when the Japanese documented this method, and they were confident they could make incremental progress on lowering the cost. I would assume that all of the Japanese research has been cancelled in light of the post-Fukushima madness.

Re:But...? (4, Insightful)

Kaenneth (82978) | about 2 years ago | (#41082423)

I would guess research into filtering out radioactive elements would only increase...

Re:But...? (1)

pixelpusher220 (529617) | about 2 years ago | (#41082639)

What's the realistic potential of the amount we could get?

Could it replace the need to mine it for grid scale consumption?

Is it naturally replenished in the sea water or is it just there like it is in the earth (and taking out eventually depletes the stock)?

Genuinely curious :)

Re:But...? (5, Informative)

rasmusbr (2186518) | about 2 years ago | (#41082825)

Wikipedia says there's 3.3 mg uranium per m^3 of seawater and the volume of the world's oceans adds up to 1.3*10^18 m^3, which means that there's 4.4*10^12 kg of uranium in the oceans, or roughly 400 kg per human in a world with 10 billion humans. That's a lot of uranium...

I don't suppose much is known about the rate at which it replenishes, but I bet scientists will be able to find out about that long before we begin to see measurable depletion of seawater uranium on a global scale.

Re:But...? (5, Informative)

dasunt (249686) | about 2 years ago | (#41083661)

I don't suppose much is known about the rate at which it replenishes, but I bet scientists will be able to find out about that long before we begin to see measurable depletion of seawater uranium on a global scale.

However, rivers bring more uranium into the sea all the time, in fact 3.2x10^4 tonne per year.

- Source [stanford.edu]

Re:But...? (1)

Hillgiant (916436) | about 2 years ago | (#41084597)

Like oil, it isn't how much is there. Rather it is how much energy we have to exert to extract it.

Re:But...? (1)

HiThere (15173) | about 2 years ago | (#41086039)

It's more complicated than that. A reliable supply that you don't need to fight for is worth a lot.

OTOH, IIUC extraction of Uranium from sea water is only marginally economically feasible. This could be improved in several ways. One way is by designing better reactors. Fast neutron reactors are frequently mentioned here, as they have the potential to burn their fuel down to safe essentially non-radioactive. But they are a trifle dangerous, as along the way they produce fuel that is quite radioactive. Still, if they live up to their promise, they might make seawater extraction viable even with current technology. Any improvements in extraction technology would, of course, only improve the economics.

OTOH, solar cells are getting cheaper faster than nuclear reactors are. And they don't come with the same associated dangers. They need improved ways to store the output for times when it's dark and you need energy. Current methods are bulky, expensive, or both. Still, these methods are used in some wind-farm systems, so they could be used by solar cells, too. But they all require either a centralized distribution system, or they add considerable overhead. (Batteries to back up the solar cells on my rooftop would have doubled the cost of they system. As they don't produce quite enough to satisfy our needs, that would have been foolish. I'd have needed a system twice the size of the current system to have enough excess capacity, and if you add in batteries that means the price has quadrupled.)

FWIW, I don't really like nuclear reactors. They aren't safe enough, and they aren't properly regulated ANYWHERE. Only wealthy corporations can afford to buy them, and they always seem to have enough political influence to avoid annoying safety regulations without significant penalty. Mind you this criticism only applies to the operational systems. The designs have different problems (of a related nature). The contractors who build them like expensive systems, but they don't like design changes. And they have also captured their regulators. This tends to result in obsolete systems being built with some safety measures ridiculously over-designed, and other crucial ones nearly ignored.

N.B.: I'm not an expert in the area, but I've listened to a few people who were. Don't ask me for specifics, ask an expert. I'd give you at best a half answer, and on some points I might have totally misunderstood what was meant. But the criticisms of the process appear to me quite solid.

Re:But...? (1)

WaywardGeek (1480513) | about 2 years ago | (#41083125)

I'm not sure if I'm happy or sad at the prospect of obtaining lot's more uranium. The world has yet to demonstrate that commercial nuclear plants make any financial sense, and then there's the incredibly stupid waste storage system we have in the US (have each plant simply hang onto it). I'm more concerned over the prospect of a fire in those storage polls than a meltdown in a core.

Molten salt reactors [earthlink.net] seem promising, and there's little debate that they would be cheaper. There are other challenges, but cost seems to be a clear benefit. Also, with continuous fuel reprocessing, the waste is a tiny fraction of what we generate in a traditional light water reactor, and we could even use waste from our existing reactors as fuel for molten salt reactors, eventually burning up most of it. We could even burn Thorium, which should last a very long time. All this needs major investments in R&D. A driving factor behind such investments will be running out of cheap enriched uranium. If we succeed in obtaining uranium from the sea cheaply, we will most likely continue down our incredibly stupid path until someone does have their nuclear waste catch fire and go Chernobyl on us.

Re:But...? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41083491)

more fuel is always good. I think you're buying into the LFTR hype a bit much. Not all uranium reactors are built in the '70s, and it's possible to have a uranium reactor that burns all the fuels (the current ones don't because fuel is so cheap, and they were originally designed with the possibility of making plutonium for bombs).

Re:But...? (1)

manicb (1633645) | about 2 years ago | (#41083825)

The world has yet to demonstrate that commercial nuclear plants make any financial sense

Is that compared to the energy taken to commission/decommission, or is that compared with the low cost of fossil fuels which don't have to pay for the destruction they will unleash? Current consensus seems to be that it's likely climate change will wreck us before the oil runs out, so relying on current economics is not a very helpful way of decision-making.

Re:But...? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41084461)

"We could even burn Thorium, which should last a very long time."

Understatement of the year since we have enough known reserves to run all the Earth's current energy needs for about 3 billion years.

Re:But...? (2)

Chirs (87576) | about 2 years ago | (#41083299)

Yes, there is lots of uranium around. But it's locked up in mines, in places such as Niger which are unstable.

I suppose you consider Saskatchewan, Canada to be "unstable"?

Re:But...? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41083931)

I would assume that all of the Japanese research has been cancelled in light of the post-Fukushima madness.

I don't see why. After all, they've just added substantially to the amount of Uranium in the local waters, the higher concentration should make it that much easier to make filtering it back out commercially viable.

(rdg)

Re:But...? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41084709)

'Locked up' in mines? That's where its 'concentrated'! That makes it easy to get to.

There are Uranium deposits all round the world, and Nigeria, for example, is not an unstable country. There's quite a lot in Australia. This is an interesting chemical technique, but wake me up when they start pulling out REAL rare materials, like gold, in reasonable quantities.

Mining is still the way to go for obtaining minerals.

Re:But...? (2)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | about 2 years ago | (#41082129)

Yeah, but the potential of extraction from seawater is mind boggling. The Japanese have been working on this for a long time, and they estimate the uranium content of the main current off their coast carries by more uranium in a year than the total known reserves left in the ground. I just hope the Fukishima disaster doesn't put a damper on the basic research they are doing.

Re:But...? (1)

Talderas (1212466) | about 2 years ago | (#41082137)

"Japanese Miracle"?

Re:But...? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41082901)

Not at face value since we're talking Ur rather than intermediary products but maybe it could help enable something like the "Japanese Miracle" as the technology and understanding of it matures.

Remember the "Japanese Miracle" had to be deployed before the radioactive fallout arrived from the WW3 nuclear war in order to have any effect; it's a preventive rather than a reactive measure.

For those who do not know it the "Japanese Miracle" is an important backdrop to the continuing survival and existence of Japan as a sovereign nation in the 2030ies in GitS SAC (can't remember if it was series 1 or 2).

Re:But...? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41082717)

Uranium is as common a tin and 40 times more common than silver [cameco.com] . Coal contains more energy due to uranium impurities than it does due to the chemical energy contained in coal.

http://www.ornl.gov/info/ornlreview/rev26-34/text/colmain.html [ornl.gov]

<sarc>Shit, if uranium is only as common as tin and produces 10 million times the energy on a mass per mass basis as coal, how will we ever be able to solve our energy crisis?</sarc>

Uranium (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41081865)

Unlike oil, uranium will be found in comets, asteroids, planets, and deep within the earth. This applies to thorium as well. Effectively, it is an inexhaustible resource. The deeper you mine, the greater density of rock and the greater likeliness you will find uranium. Once we are able to mine the mantle we will be able to travel to the stars.

Re:Uranium (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41081899)

How do you pack so much insanity into so few words? It's like an artform.

Re:Uranium (2)

drwho (4190) | about 2 years ago | (#41082187)

What the original poster says about the deposits of uranium and thorium are true. However, technology, politics, and economics are blocking its effective use. Mostly politics.

Re:Uranium (1)

HiThere (15173) | about 2 years ago | (#41086193)

He made sense until he jumped into fueling a starship. Only hydorgen fusion or anti-matter conversion are reasonable fuels for that level of energy need. Unless...

My personal favorite is a LOW speed LARGE spaceship. Something larger than James Blish's New York, but nowhere near as fast. It can't go fast, because it needs to scavenge interstellar materials as it goes. Small asteroids, comet heads, etc. By not going fast, it reduces it's energy needs considerably. But scavenging materials it picks up needed supplies en-route to where-ever. The purpose is the journey, not the arrival. When it encounters a large mass, say a small planet, it builds a new copy, and the population divides.

Fission provides enough power for that mode, but you need a *really good* closed ecology. And a better sociology than we've managed so far. (N.B.: This mode will depend on lasers for communication links to other humans, because large as the society I've proposed is, it's probably not large enough to maintain a technological civilization on its own (although AIs might change that requirement).

Re:Uranium (1, Interesting)

Sparticus789 (2625955) | about 2 years ago | (#41081945)

And when pigs grow wings, they will be able to fly.

Re:Uranium (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41082199)

And man will never fly in heavier than air machines. Yeah, yeah, we've heard it all before from your ilk.

Read up on it. The amount of uranium in the oceans is staggering, and combined with a well thought out chain of nuclear reactor types, where the waste from one can feed the next in line, could solve humanity's energy problem effectively forever.

Re:Uranium (1)

pixelpusher220 (529617) | about 2 years ago | (#41082673)

solve humanity's energy problem effectively forever.

Fortunately it gives us LOTS of new problems to deal with. At least we won't be bored. Or need nightlights...

Re:Uranium (1)

angel'o'sphere (80593) | about 2 years ago | (#41083867)

Well,
not in comets, not likely in asteroids either, and with uranium alone you can't travel to the stars anyway ...
The densitiy point is utter nonsense as well.
Why should the densitiy have anything to do with the minerals bound in it?

Re:Uranium (1)

mcgrew (92797) | about 2 years ago | (#41084261)

Once we are able to mine the mantle we will be able to travel to the stars.

Sorry, but there's that pesky relativity getting in the way. It takes light four to ten years to get here from the ten nearest stars, none of which have shown evidence of earthlike planets. I'm afraid it's going to be centuries, or more likely never, that we travel the stars. Sorry, but there's a reason they call it science fiction.

Chitin (3, Informative)

drwho (4190) | about 2 years ago | (#41081903)

Chitin is also what makes up the body shells of insects. While these molten salts mentioned may be the best way to extract chitin, it also is soluble in d-limonene, an extract of citrus fruit peels.

This would be very good news, if people valued it properly. As much as a think the LFTR (which doesn't depend on uranium as a fuel) is a better type of reactor, there are limitations on its fuel source, which is thorium. Thorium is more plentiful, but it is not water soluble, so it doesn't benefit from this type of mining technique.

Re:Chitin (1)

spongman (182339) | about 2 years ago | (#41082103)

Thorium is more plentiful, but it is not water soluble, so it doesn't benefit from this type of mining technique

huh?
you don't need to enslave the population of a 3rd-world country in order to mine Thorium, either. but i don't see that as a negative. the stuff is (almost) everywhere, you don't need to resort to crazy mining/extraction techniques. you can just, you know, dig it up out of the ground.

Re:Chitin (1)

Andy Dodd (701) | about 2 years ago | (#41082277)

I think the problems with thorium lie more in the reactor technologies than in the ability to obtain it...

Similarly, while this is cool, I would vastly prefer to see work on improved reactor technologies that greatly reduce our need for fresh uranium input into the process.

Look at the IFR as an example - Most of our existing reactor waste could be used as fuel for these reactors, or at least in "breeder blankets" used to generate more fuel.

Re:Chitin (1)

denis-The-menace (471988) | about 2 years ago | (#41083947)

Thorium is currently a waste product of mining other elements that are in demand.

Though you could probably line the walls of your house with it and live just fine, Thorium is a bit radioactive and the Laws kick-in to prevent you from even stock piling the stuff.

TL;DR: Thorium is not a desirable element in mining. You can't get rid of the stuff. (in the UPS, at least)

Does it pan out? (1)

demonbug (309515) | about 2 years ago | (#41081961)

How much energy does it take to create these mats, put them in place, harvest, etc. Wouldn't this rather rapidly reduce the local concentration of uranium in seawater, requiring the mats to constantly be moved (or placed in areas with strong currents flushing new supplies through)? Seems like an interesting idea, but at only roughly $50 per pound (for uranium oxide) it really doesn't seem like this would pan out without massively increased demand for uranium. Maybe go after something valuable, like gold or platinum first (although I suppose they may be harder to extract from seawater)?

Re:Does it pan out? (4, Informative)

SQL Error (16383) | about 2 years ago | (#41082117)

It's not economically feasible now, but the energy balance works out. Even with the previous method that was only 1/5th as efficient, you got much more energy out of the uranium than was required to collect it.

Seawater moves around, and the process still isn't that efficient, so you wouldn't have any problems with decreased concentration.

The reason this is valuable is not so much that it's economical today, as that there's enough uranium in the ocean to provide all our electricity needs for millions of years.

Re:Does it pan out? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41082433)

Sorry but that's just not true unless we swap over all the old reactors to newer ones, and invest in a lot of research.

Why do I say that? It's because we use U235 as our main fuel source. The isotopic majority of Uranium is U238. It's useful, but mainly in breeder reactors, not BWR, PWRs.
Yeah, that is simplifying it a lot.

IAANP.

Re:Does it pan out? (2)

MozeeToby (1163751) | about 2 years ago | (#41082643)

Ok, fine, lets say there's only thousands of years of Uranium usable in today's reactors. You don't think that maybe, just maybe, reactor design would change over the next few thousand years?

Re:Does it pan out? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41082913)

Considering what's happened within the lifetime of nuclear power to date, no I don't see much happening for another couple of decades (in the Western World) unless there's a massive change in political and social thinking.

Part of the message that has to go out to the public is "look at how old these things are. Don't you want them replaced with newer/better/safer versions?".
Maybe we should get Apple marketing involved, but I shudder to think what the price tag would then become.

Ironically enough, this just arrived in my inbox:
THU 30.08.12 08:30-13:30
THE FUTURE OF ENERGY: DREAMS AND RESPONSIBILITIES
Join energy experts from around the world as they discuss the future of energy - clean fossil fuels, next generation solar applications, and other renewable energy solutions. Sponsored by the University of Notre Dame, speakers include NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden Jr. Admission: Free.

Re:Does it pan out? (2)

ceoyoyo (59147) | about 2 years ago | (#41083319)

"maybe, reactor design would change over the next few thousand years?"

"no I don't see much happening for another couple of decades (in the Western World)"

Ah, Slashdot.

Re:Does it pan out? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41082441)

Even much longer, if we keep shutting down nuclear plants at the current rate...

Re:Does it pan out? (1)

gman003 (1693318) | about 2 years ago | (#41082707)

The reason this is valuable is not so much that it's economical today, as that there's enough uranium in the ocean to provide all our electricity needs for millions of years.

But it might prove useful for decontamination. Perhaps the uranium-free water is more important than the water-free uranium.

It might also prove useful for countries trying to develop nuclear systems (both peaceful and military) in secret. Sure, you'd still have to use a centrifuge process to get weapons-grade stuff, but this would allow any non-landlocked country to obtain natural-state uranium.

Re:Does it pan out? (1)

drwho (4190) | about 2 years ago | (#41082145)

no, you would not need to move the collecting apparatus. You would have placed it in an area with sufficient current so that the water would be quickly circulated. It wouldn't be very hard, seawater moves around a real lot.

In regards to the price, see the other posts I made here regarding price stability being important. Take a look at this historical price chart: http://www.uxc.com/review/uxc_PriceChart.aspx?chart=spot-u3o8-full and you can see that there have been price spikes in the past decade.

I do not know if the process could be used for platinum and gold extraction. I assume that if it could, then these metals would be receiving the attention and that uranium would be seen as a low priority.

Re:Does it pan out? (1)

nitehawk214 (222219) | about 2 years ago | (#41082207)

Mining uranium from the earth is not energy free, so it is a matter of using the most efficient technique. Or using both techniques and balancing one against the other.

Also, the seas move due to ocean currents. The same water does not stay in the same place for long.

Re:Does it pan out? (1)

MightyYar (622222) | about 2 years ago | (#41082243)

It doesn't sound cost-effective to me, either. But I don't think refreshing the water will be a problem - ocean currents are very swift and move a lot of volume. Stick a mat in the Gulf Stream, and the water is moving around 4MPH past it. The volume of water in the Gulf Stream is also enormous - between 30 and 150 cubic meters per second.

Since there are about 3.3g of U in a cubic meter of seawater, that gives a minimum of 99g/second just passing by in the Gulf Stream. The world currently consumes around 70,000 tonnes of U per year - so you'd need 70,000 * 1,000 / 0.099 = 8183 days of Gulf Stream water to get enough U for a single year. :)

Re:Does it pan out? (4, Informative)

SQL Error (16383) | about 2 years ago | (#41082481)

30 to 150 million cubic metres per second. So 12 minutes of Gulf Stream flow would contain enough uranium to supply our present needs for a year.

Though if you could tap the entire Gulf Stream you'd have another source of energy at hand...

Re:Does it pan out? (1)

MightyYar (622222) | about 2 years ago | (#41083379)

Don't laugh - I had a friend at the army corp who was working on feasibility calculations to build a wall that would divert the Gulf Stream to hug the East Coast of the US.

Re:Does it pan out? (1)

ThatsMyNick (2004126) | about 2 years ago | (#41085449)

Why? To increase the coastal erosion we already have?

Re:Does it pan out? (1)

MightyYar (622222) | about 2 years ago | (#41086337)

To bring the same benefits to the Eastern US that Europe currently enjoys: milder winters and a longer growing season.

Re:Does it pan out? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41085981)

I am pretty sure we europeans don't agree with that. The damage to europe would be so huge it be like a declaration of war.

Re:Does it pan out? (1)

MightyYar (622222) | about 2 years ago | (#41086313)

Yeah, pretty much. I'd pay to see the report.

Re:Does it pan out? (3, Informative)

Ancient_Hacker (751168) | about 2 years ago | (#41082569)

You left out a few prefixes of "million" and "milli", making your analysis way off, at first. There are 30 million cubic meters per sec of gulf stream flow. there are 3 milligrams of Uranium per cubic meter of seawater. So that's 90 Kilos of Uranium per second.

But you're unlikely to be able to intercept more than a thousandth of the gulf stream, so we're back to 90 g per second. the goofs cancel out!

Re:Does it pan out? (1)

MightyYar (622222) | about 2 years ago | (#41083345)

Unfortunately I took my numbers from Wikipedia, and they are all off by a million here and a thousand there :(

Re:Does it pan out? (1)

Rei (128717) | about 2 years ago | (#41082571)

That's 30 to 150 Sverdrups [wikipedia.org] . A Sverdrup is 1.000.000 m^3/s, aka 1.000.000.000 kg/s, and thus at 0.003ppm U by mass, contains 3 kilograms per second, meaning to recover 70.000 tonnes a year (70.000.000kg) takes ~23.000.000 seconds, aka 270 days, aka a 3/4ths recovery rate is sufficient.

Of course, the Gulf Stream is just one of the Earth's many oceanic currents [wikimedia.org] .

Re:Does it pan out? (1)

MightyYar (622222) | about 2 years ago | (#41083323)

Ahhh, that explains why the volume numbers on Wikipedia didn't pass the sniff test.

It seems they also have a bad number for the 3.3g of U per cubic meter of seawater... it should be 1000 times less than that. That did seem a tad high.

Re:Does it pan out? (1)

angel'o'sphere (80593) | about 2 years ago | (#41084153)

A quibic meter of sea water does not hold 3.3 grams Uranium but 3.3 mili grams.

What's a "sort of" catalyst? (3, Insightful)

Rogerborg (306625) | about 2 years ago | (#41081969)

Is that like a "sort of" virgin, or a "sort of" complete ignoramus?

It's a word with a very specific scientific meaning. Use it for that purpose, or find a different one.

Re:What's a "sort of" catalyst? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41082395)

It's no kind of catalyst. The molten salt (ionic liquid) used to extract the chitin may be a catalyst--the article doesn't go into those kind of details. The chitin is used to make a "sort of" mat. The mat holds a substance that reacts with the uranium. Thus, if you leave the mat floating in seawater, it eventually picks up a bunch of uranium. The chitin's only contribution to this is to hold the substance that reacts with the uranium. This allows them to collect the uranium by removing the mat, rinsing off the reactive substance and the uranium, and then separating the uranium from the reactive substance. After that, they can put more of the reactive substance on the chitin mat and send it out to collect more uranium.

The neat science here is the molten salt that extracts the chitin from the shells, the spinning of the chitin into the fine threads of the mat, and the different kind of reactive substances that they use to collect the uranium. The neat part of the chitin is that they can use it spin extra-fine threads that they then use in the mat. It does not seem to have any chemical responsibilities in the extraction. It's just what they use to hold the important chemical in place.

Cockroaches of the sea (1)

Gothmolly (148874) | about 2 years ago | (#41081979)

I can't see why anyone eats shrimp.

Re:Cockroaches of the sea (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about 2 years ago | (#41082051)

Because they taste good?

If cockroaches tasted as good I would eat those too.

Re:Cockroaches of the sea (1)

drwho (4190) | about 2 years ago | (#41082227)

because not everyone is Jewish or Muslim. Some people like it. get over it.

Re:Cockroaches of the sea (3, Insightful)

MightyYar (622222) | about 2 years ago | (#41082281)

The better question is, why don't more people eat cockroaches?

Re:Cockroaches of the sea (1)

spongman (182339) | about 2 years ago | (#41082637)

because the kinds of microbes that live in cockroaches are the same kind that make you dead.

Re:Cockroaches of the sea (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41083547)

"sort of" dead

Re:Cockroaches of the sea (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41082739)

Because the slimy inside taste terrible an you can't peel them like shrimps( and get some clean muscle tissue).

Re:Cockroaches of the sea (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41083339)

"sort of" dead?

Re:Cockroaches of the sea (1)

Hillgiant (916436) | about 2 years ago | (#41084189)

The little ones don't have a good meat to shell ratio. And people already eat the big ones [wikipedia.org] .

Re:Cockroaches of the sea (1)

Translation Error (1176675) | about 2 years ago | (#41084689)

Oh, they do. They just don't realize it.

Re:Cockroaches of the sea (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41082863)

Shrimp doesn't disgust me like Lobster does.

Lobster is a great big cockroach with claws, there was a reason that only the poor used to it.

Am I the only one ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41081991)

... who originally read ORNL as ORLY?

Pinky Jindal (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41082067)

I could not understand this well.

W.O.M.B.A.T. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41082073)

Breeder reactors, bitches!
Make all the fuel we need from fuel (and bombs) we already have!

Swoon (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41082079)

Oh chitin. Is there anything it can't do?

Re:Swoon (1)

Rei (128717) | about 2 years ago | (#41082371)

Is there anything it can't do?

Fail the mayor. Not ever.

Makes me wonder (0)

fustakrakich (1673220) | about 2 years ago | (#41082135)

Why aren't we extracting what we need most from seawater? Water... Oh, never mind.. no money in it. We need the uranium to bomb countries that have lots of fresh water. Big money there.

Re:Makes me wonder (1)

MightyYar (622222) | about 2 years ago | (#41082291)

There are cheaper sources of water on and under the surface. People are not afraid to go with desalination when necessary.

So much fail, so little comment (1)

Overzeetop (214511) | about 2 years ago | (#41083693)

We need it to produce electricity; we already have enough fissile material to blow up whomever we want.

And the countries we would prefer to turn into a flat landscape of radioactive glass (I liked the idea of calling it New Iowa, myself), have oil but no fresh water.

Most of us don't need more fresh water, provided we manage to keep our "economic engine" from screwing up the supplies we have and quit having more children. Those last two are not advice the politicians on the right side of the aisle endorse, though.

Re:So much fail, so little comment (1)

fustakrakich (1673220) | about 2 years ago | (#41083879)

And the countries we would prefer to turn into a flat landscape of radioactive glass... have oil but no fresh water.

Maybe you're not aware of what's under the ground where this man [csmonitor.com] walked... oh yeah, and this guy also [prunejuicemedia.com] . This should enlighten you what this "Arab Spring" was really about.

Re:Makes me wonder (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41085717)

Umm, there are a lot of places that run desalination plants to produce fresh water from seawater. It is energy intensive, so it tends to be expensive and one of the last options used when other sources of water are not available. Also, because it is expensive, and because there is money in supplying water, there is quite a bit of research into reducing the energy requirements of large scale desalination. There is also plenty of research into cheap, small scale desalination equipment that could be donated to places without the infrastructure or money to run it on an industrial scale.

more Uranium? (1, Informative)

spongman (182339) | about 2 years ago | (#41082525)

Uranium sucks:

  • it's only mined significantly in a few countries, several of which don't like us.
  • it's hard to mine.
  • it's dangerous to mine [wikipedia.org] .
  • there's not much left.
  • it's difficult to use - you have to extract the fissile isotope [wikipedia.org] first.
  • this enrichment process [wikipedia.org] is useful for making bombs [wikipedia.org]
  • when you do get to use it, it produces large amounts of hazardous waste [wikipedia.org] .
  • some of that waste [wikipedia.org] can also be used to make bombs [wikipedia.org]

unless you're talking Uranium-233 [wikipedia.org] bred in a thorium-fueled reactor, of course...

Re:more Uranium? (4, Insightful)

MozeeToby (1163751) | about 2 years ago | (#41082743)

You do realize that, with continued research into sea water extraction, your first four objections go away? It could be extracted from anywhere with access to the sea, as safely as fishing, and there is enough to power all of humanity for thousands of years. As to the rest, proliferation is largely a political problem, one that can't be ignored no doubt but certainly not insurmountable. Waste is a larger issue of course, breeder reactors would help there but you've still got to put it somewhere. I'd say launch it into the sun once we get the rocket tech to do that efficiently but that seems awfully wasteful (after all, if it's energetic enough to be dangerous we can probably find a user for it somewhere in the long term).

Re:more Uranium? (1)

spongman (182339) | about 2 years ago | (#41083123)

with continued research into sea water extraction, your first four objections go away

actually 2&3 are still valid. regardless, it's only viable when you get from $300/lb pre-process to $50/lb market.
there's NO excuse for enriching Uranium anywhere (i'm looking at Iran/N. Korea here), other than 1) making weapons, or 2) supporting a (environmentally|politically|economically) hazardous status-quo.

Re:more Uranium? (4, Insightful)

rbrander (73222) | about 2 years ago | (#41084007)

I'm not sure what 2 even means; "hard to mine?" Lots of things are hard - try raising kids. In economic terms, "hard" just means "expensive". It's either affordable or it isn't.

In context of the total cost of nuclear power, it's been getting expensive and rare lately because of soaring *construction* costs, not fuel costs, since fuel costs are a single-digit percentage of the whole; it's almost all about paying off the multi-billion-dollar mortgage on the plant. Even before this discovery, the Japanese believed they could extract uranium from seawater for a few hundred dollars per kg - that's several times the current price, but should we "run out of uranium" (i.e. nothing but "hard" places left), then a ceiling will be put on the price, since it would take many centuries of "mining the sea" for the concentration to decline.

Before that happens, of course, it'll become affordable to re-process spent nuclear fuel, which means 97% of what is currently regarded as "waste" will become fuel again, because reprocessing costs 3X as much as mining new stuff. That 30:1 ratio will stretch out the supply a ways.

As for "dangerous", your own link to radon notes that new standards for mining procedure were enacted back in 1971. Most of the data on higher lung cancers and so forth come from those exposed some time ago, particularly Navaho uranium miners, where there were many allegations that racism prevented a more serious response to their concerns.

More recently you can run across comments like this one:

On June 18, 2004, the Saskatchewan Uranium Miners' Cohort Study Group released its report on a feasiblity study it had begun in 2002:
"It concludes that it is not scientifically feasible to conduct a study of present and future miners who work in modern Saskatchewan uranium mines (1975 onward). Today’s Saskatchewan uranium miners have radon exposures that are between 100 and 1000 times lower than those of past uranium miners, such as miners from Beaverlodge, because of dose limits, improved mining techniques, and other radiation protection practices. Any higher-than-normal rates of lung cancer from such workplace exposures would be virtually impossible to measure. The feasibility study was completed in October 2003 and it was then reviewed by three internationally respected radiation researchers." [ http://www.wise-uranium.org/uhm.html [wise-uranium.org] ]

Simply, this is an engineering and economic issue. Proper safety procedure lowers the risks of mining hazardous materials (where do you think things like arsenic and mercury come from? Somebody has to extract and purify them...), and make the risks tolerable - at least as tolerable as coal mining, your only practical alternative...and they also increase the cost of the extraction, which is then either affordable or it isn't. In the case of the nuclear industry, it would probably only a a tenth-cent per kWh to pay double or triple for uranium, so it's always going to be affordable to mine it - and dispose of it - safely.

The industry doesn't WANT to, any more than slaughterhouses want to pay a decent wage and up the cost of your hamburger by a nickel; but that's a "mere" matter of regulating the activities of very wealthy investors. Hard, (sorry) but possible.

Re:more Uranium? (1)

onyxruby (118189) | about 2 years ago | (#41084065)

I just ran out of mod points or you'd get a +1 informative.

Re:more Uranium? (1)

TubeSteak (669689) | about 2 years ago | (#41084627)

Proper safety procedure lowers the risks of mining hazardous materials (where do you think things like arsenic and mercury come from? Somebody has to extract and purify them...), and make the risks tolerable - at least as tolerable as coal mining, your only practical alternative

Coal mining isn't as safe as you'd think
Here are the headlines from an NPR series on black lung [npr.org]
As Mine Protections Fail, Black Lung Cases Surge
Black-Lung Rule Loopholes Leave Miners Vulnerable
Black Lung: Why Respirators Are Not A Solution
Surface Coal Miners At Risk For Black Lung
Federal Mine Agency Considering Tougher Response On Black Lung
Republican Lawmakers Seek To Block Funding On Black Lung Regulation

And this has been going on since the late 90s.
Apparently mining Uranium is safer than mining for coal.

Re:more Uranium? (1)

icebrain (944107) | about 2 years ago | (#41083407)

I'd say launch it into the sun once we get the rocket tech to do that efficiently but that seems awfully wasteful

That would actually take a good bit more energy than just ejecting it from the solar system entirely.

Re:more Uranium? (1)

artfulshrapnel (1893096) | about 2 years ago | (#41083639)

Well, they ARE loaded with extremely high density fuel. Just get it into orbit and then use that stuff to propel it wherever you want. Heck, shoot them out in random directions with messages to aliens written on the side. The isotopes will continue to decay for millenia, and should be easy to detect for any reasonably advanced species studying the heavens. Add in some nuclear powered broadcasters of some kind if you want to be really sure it gets attention. When suitably advanced extraterrestrials notice the weird radiation source passing through their star system they can either investigate it directly (if they have an easy way to retrieve it) or backtrace its path to get an approximate direction for Earth.

Oh deadly radiation, is there anything you aren't useful for?

Re:more Uranium? (1)

spongman (182339) | about 2 years ago | (#41085323)

That would actually take a good bit more energy than just ejecting it from the solar system entirely.

getting it into the Sun is not the problem, it's getting it safely off the Earth [bbc.co.uk] that's the issue.
the thorium fuel cycle produces ~30x less long-lasting hazardous waste than uranium per W output (~15kg/GWyr).

Re:more Uranium? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41083291)

it's only mined significantly in a few countries, several of which don't like us.
Only because environmentalists block new mines in stable 1st world countries. The largest reserves of Uranium are in US, Canada, Australia, and Kazakhstan.
it's hard to mine.
No harder than mining any other precious ore
it's dangerous to mine [wikipedia.org].
No more so than mining anything else
there's not much left.
No, there are literally millions of years of Uranium available. Using fast reactors, there is literally 1000-2000 years worth of uranium already mined siting around unused in barrels as depleted uranium
it's difficult to use - you have to extract the fissile isotope [wikipedia.org] first.
No you don't. We have CANDU, thorium, and fast reactors.
this enrichment process [wikipedia.org] is useful for making bombs [wikipedia.org]
Doesn't have to be enriched, see above
when you do get to use it, it produces large amounts of hazardous waste [wikipedia.org].
  Actually, it produces a very tiny amount of compact waste which can be safely stored indefinitely.
some of that waste [wikipedia.org] can also be used to make bombs [wikipedia.org]
No it can't. Reactor-grade plutonium is poisoned with Pu-240 preventing its use in bombs.

Re:more Uranium? (1)

Hillgiant (916436) | about 2 years ago | (#41084249)

  • it's only mined significantly in a few countries, several of which don't like us.

If we have reached the point where we have pissed off Canada and Australia [wikipedia.org] , we really are screwed.

Re:more Uranium? (1)

spongman (182339) | about 2 years ago | (#41084387)

availability for domestic use is not the issue. my concern is the ability of nutjobs to achieve their desired goal of prematurely bringing the end of the world.

Didn't know "adsorption" was a word (1)

mnemotronic (586021) | about 2 years ago | (#41083541)

Never took chemistry. After studying the Wikipedia entry for Adsorption [wikipedia.org] I have determined that "The Adsorption Chillers" would be a good name for a group or a movie.

Sounds fishy to me. (1)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | about 2 years ago | (#41083623)

And likely to make me crabby. So, taken from seawater to light bulb. Is it energy positive or not? And what does it cost per watt? And why do I still start sentences with "And?"

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