Underwater Uranium Farms

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"Other countries are conducting similar research but none are as advanced as we are."

Here's an interesting example of the lengths to which nuclear energy-dependent nations are willing to go to insure direct uranium supplies: government-funded scientists in Japan are developing the means to extract uranium from the sea.

Japan is the world's third-biggest nuclear generator, consuming roughly 9,800 tons of uranium in 2008. Currently, Japan relies on uranium imports from Canada and Australia to fuel its nuclear reactors.

Dr. Masao Tanada (Japan Atomic Energy Agency) has created a fabric made mostly of irradiated polyethylene that acts like a sponge, soaking up uranium from the surrounding seawater. The fabric can be placed on the seabed to create "uranium farms" that Dr. Tanada says would allow Japan's nuclear power industry to extract its annual uranium needs from the Kuroshio Current flowing along Japan's eastern seaboard.

Dr. Tanada is looking to garner funding to build an approximately 400 square mile underwater uranium farm. This one farm would provide Japan with as much as 16% of its annual uranium demand, he said.

"Other countries are conducting similar research but none are as advanced as we are," commented Dr. Tanada. "We need to conduct more development research and be able to produce the adsorbent material on a large scale, but we could achieve this within five years."

Sounds crazy, eh? But when one considers that an estimated 4.5 billion tons of uranium (about 1,000 times the amount known in mines) is floating around in the earth's oceans (at about 3.3 parts per billion), it begins to seem like an option worth pursuing.

If such technology can be perfected and put to use, how will this affect the spot price of uranium on the open market? The share price of uranium miners?

Whether or not this technology gets off the ground is yet to be seen, but the very idea of its consideration reflects the increasing demand for nuclear power fuel and the continuation of uranium's rise as one of the world's most desired energy commodities.

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