Turning coal ash into energy
As many nukes know, there is a certain amount of uranium and thorium present in most coal. The China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) is taking a look techniques for treating coal ash piles to release the uranium that should be concentrated there, since uranium oxide is not combustible. (See, for example CNNC looks for new sources of uranium.)
Since In Situ Leaching (ISL) techniques are pretty well established and not terribly complicated, it seems like a pretty good idea with a high potential payoff to me. At current world prices for uranium ash piles could become valuable resources.
Just playing with numbers here, suppose that the coal feeding a particular plant has a uranium concentration of 4 parts per million and that the act of burning the coal concentrates that by a factor of 10 to 40 ppm. A typical coal fired power plant producing 1000 MW may produce 2,000 tons of ash each day. If the plant runs for 30 years at an 80% capacity factor, the ash pile from that plant would contain more than 800 tons of uranium. If the ISL process can recover 25% of that material, the value of the uranium would be $50 million at current world uranium prices.
That would be a rather small operation, but could be worth the effort from a financial point of view, especially if you consider the fact that there are some much larger plants with higher concentrations of uranium because of their particular coal supply.