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  • Unranium Oxide
  • Mines Producing Unranium Oxide

Also Known As : Uraninite

Uranium oxide is also known as uraninite, the ore from which commercial levels of uranium is generally extracted. Uraninite is normally mined from sedimentary rocks such as sandstone and hydrothermal vein deposits. It is also a by-product of silver and gold processing. Uranium is a metallic chemical element that has a low radioactive presence but the highest atomic weight of all the naturally occurring minerals. It has a lower density to that of gold but is 70 percent more dense than lead. It is sought after for both civilian and military uses but more noticeably in nuclear technology because of its ability to create a sustained nuclear chain reaction.

The ore containing uranium is usually processed immediately it is mined and turned into yellowcake to make it easier to transport for further processing. The yellowcake is actually uranium oxide concentrate, an insoluble yellow powder that consists of around 80 percent uranium oxide.

To produce uranium oxide the ore containing the uranium has to be ground and mixed with water until it becomes a mud. This mixture is then oxidised with the use of ferric sulphate that dissolves into sulphuric acid. The resulting uranium rich liquid is then separated and put into contact with special resin beads that absorb all the uranium ions. The uranium is removed from the resin beads by means of an acid wash and a very concentrated uranium solution results. The next step involves combining an organic solvent with the uranium rich solution and this is then mixed with ammonium sulphate. The precipitation that results from this action creates a substance called ammonium diuranate, a mixture of ammonia and uranium oxide. This substance is thickened and removed with the use of rotating filters which is known as yellow paste. The paste is then roasted to remove the ammonia leaving uranium oxide alone in it's place. This uranium oxide can be further processed to produce enriched uranium oxide fuel. This product is sealed into special metal fuel rods that, in turn, are fitted into nuclear reactors that produces the heat required to generate electricity.

A by-product of this process is what is known as depleted uranium oxide, this substance is no longer radioactive. Once uranium oxide is depleted it can be used in situations where large masses have to be made fit in small places, for example, as yacht keels and helicopter counterweights. Depleted uranium oxide is also used in the production of radiation shielding being far more effective than lead and also in ceramic and glass products as colourants.

Australia has the world's largest uranium resource with 33 percent of the world's total that is able to be recovered for less than $130 a kilogram. There are currently four mines producing uranium in Australia; the Ranger Mine in the Northern Territory and the Olympic Dam, Beverley and Honeymoon mines in South Australia. The Honeymoon Mine is the latest to start production having been commissioned in 2011.

Uranium naturally occurs in the Earth's crust, with traces to be found virtually everywhere but it is only when uranium becomes concentrated in the one area that it becomes feasible to mine. It is primarily mined for used as nuclear fuel. The rocks that contain concentrated uranium are known as uranium ore from which the uranium has to be extracted. It is carefully traced from when it is mined right through to when it reaches it final destination. The Australian government only allows uranium sales to certain countries that it considers will not allow it to be used in the manufacturing of nuclear weapons.

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