This is a thought piece, not a detailed statistical assessment. I have about 20 minutes to jot down a few ideas that I want to share widely to encourage conversation and perhaps later some additional study.
- The idea that uranium supplies are limited to a few decades at most is being widely repeated; often by groups that have long had opposition to nuclear fission energy as part of their professional portfolio.
- The idea is total nonsense, anti-fission propaganda and even BS. (Do you understand that I disagree with the notion?)
- Uranium 238 is useful fission fuel – it simply takes a bit more oomph to get it to fission compared to U-235. A high energy (fast) neutron may do the trick (there is a reasonable, though not 100%, probability that a single fast neutron can split U-238 if it is absorbed into the nucleus) and there is a good probability that a second low energy neutron (thermal) can do the trick. The first neutron absorbed by U-238 converts it to Pu-239 (with a couple of interim decay steps), which has similar propensity to fission as U-235.
- There is a huge world inventory of U-238 that has already been mined and milled. That U-238 is in used nuclear fuel rods and in inventories near enrichment facilities. In the US alone, the inventory is close to a million tons. A ton of U-238, if fissioned, has the energy value of 2 million tons of oil.
- Thorium 232 has fission characteristics that are similar to those of Uranium 238 in that it is not immediately “fissile” but it can be fissioned with either higher energy or multiple neutrons.
- The best way to expose U-238 or Th-232 to more neutrons is to leave it in a fission reactor for a longer period of time and to design the reactors in such a way as to use U-238 and Th-232 as poisons early in life. (Wasting neutrons in other poisons never gets you a return. If the neutrons are “stored” in fissionable materials, they will later be released with a partner when those now fissile materials eventually receive their second neutron.
- The presence of helium in underground reservoirs is a solid indicator that there is a large inventory of uranium, thorium or both in the same underground area. Here is my logic – helium is identical to an alpha particle that has obtained electrons. All alpha particles that are emitted from radioactive decay of heavy elements – like uranium and thorium – obtain electrons within a couple of centimeters of travel. Helium is a lighter than air element – if there is a vent path it will eventually leave any reservoir. Therefore, if there is an inventory of helium, it has to have a continuous supply to make up for the losses.
- There are places in the US and in Russia where there is a high concentration of helium in the natural gas. In the US, there is an area in Oklahoma and North Texas that has produced most of the world’s commercial helium for the past 100 years and it not yet depleted. Ergo – there is a large, perhaps massive inventory of uranium and or thorium close to the Earth’s surface just waiting to be exploited.
- Phosphate deposits in several locations in the US are contaminated with uranium, which makes sense if you know where phosphate comes from. In the 1950s through the early 1980s, there were profitable operations that recovered uranium from phosphate mills. Those operations shut down when Uranium prices were too low to make it profitable. Since the price of uranium has increased by a factor of six to seven in recent years, I am confident that the economics have changed. I am well aware of just how much material there is in central Florida that could be treated for uranium removal – there are vast piles of the stuff in the areas east of Tampa.
Out of time. Comments are welcome.