Contributed by James Burgess of Oilprice.com.
The US is obsessed with achieving energy independence and reducing its reliance on foreign oil, yet Amir Adnani, the CEO of Uranium Energy Corp. (UEC) in Texas, has stated that “the U.S. is more reliant on foreign sources of uranium than on foreign sources of oil.”
In the 1980s the US was the largest producer of uranium in the world, with a total output of 43 million pounds a year, easily enough to meet the demands of their nuclear reactors, however now the US only produces 4 million pounds a year.
Russia has been its biggest supplier for the past 20 years, but this year the $8 billion Megatons to Megawatts Program, which extracted uranium from old nuclear weapons, comes to an end. Other countries such as Kazakhstan, Canada, and Australia can supply the US with its needs, but China’s huge expansion plans in the nuclear sector mean that it will soon compete with the US for the limited uranium supplies.
Related Article: Massive Growth in Wastewater from Fracking Industry
UEC has announced that they can produce uranium in the US via a technique that is almost identical to fracking--and it could come to a backyard near you.
Wells are drilled into layers of highly porous rock that contain uranium and ground water. Oxygenated water is then injected into the well which dissolves the uranium. The end mixture is then pumped out of the ground, where it is sent to the Hobson plant in Texas to be processed and dried.
Despite the support that shale gas activities receive in Texas, the residents are against this form of fracking. Whereas shale gas fracking takes place around 2 miles below the ground and well away from drinking water aquifers, fracking for uranium takes place between 400 and 800 feet below the ground, precisely where those aquifers exist.
Health worries exist due to the radioactive nature of uranium. Uranium emits alpha radiation, which has very low penetration, meaning that it cannot pass through the human skin, but it is highly ionising, so drinking water that is contaminated with uranium can lead to kidney and liver failure, and cancer. Cross-posted from Oilprice.com.
[Wolf here, with a quick amplification from Wikipedia: alpha radiation is not, in general, dangerous “unless the source is ingested or inhaled, in which case it becomes extremely dangerous.” Hence, the concern about drinking water. It’s “the most destructive form of ionizing radiation,” and “large enough doses can cause any or all of the symptoms of radiation poisoning.” Chromosome damage can be “anywhere from 10 to 1000 times greater than that caused by an equivalent amount of gamma or beta radiation.” The powerful alpha emitter polonium-210 “was used to kill Russian dissident and ex-FSB officer Alexander V. Litvinenko in 2006.”]