Phosphate deposits often contain substantial quantities of uranium with concentrations ranging from a few parts per million to as much as 600 ppm. The spoils left over from phosphate mining for fertilizer can contain even higher concentrations that are in a form suitable for chemical recovery of the uranium.
This recovery process used to be employed in my home state of Florida, a major source of phosphate left over from when most of the state was a coral reef. When uranium prices sank in the 1980s and 1990s to a level below $10 per pound – less than one fourth their level in the go-go years of the 1950s, all of the recovery operations shut down. They were simply not economical to operate with that kind of pricing for their finished product.
As I watched the uranium market in the past few years, I wondered when I would start seeing information about uranium mining in the phosphate regions in Central Florida near towns like Mulberry and Bartow on state highway 60. I have driven on that road on a number of occasions and have seen the enormous piles of phosphate spoils and I have seen the ships leaving Tampa harbor on a regular basis full of Florida phosphate based fertilizer.
I have not yet found any stories about Florida uranium mines, but I did run across one this morning in EnergyPublisher.com about Areva signing a deal with Office Cherifien des Phosphates (OCP) of Morocco – Areva, OCP agreement on Moroccan phosphates
One key piece of information in the article jumped out at me – the total resource available is reported as 6 million tons of uranium from this single source. To put that in perspective, the current annual uranium consumption for the whole world is just 67,000 tons. That one deposit, if fully exploited, could provide all the world’s uranium for almost 90 years. This effort is still in the exploratory phase, and there is no word yet on how much can be recovered and how much that recovery will cost.
However, this shows why I am not very concerned about the availability of fission reactor fuel – even when we decide to massively increase the rate of consumption.
PS – I did some more careful searching and found that I had missed some news from Southwest Florida based HeraldTribune.com published in May 2007 – Phosphate industry may restart uranium mining as price soars