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Uranium Production

Uranium Production

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Published by: Михаил Коньшин on Feb 17, 2011
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Uranium Production

How Uranium is Produced and Used

General Information Uranium (U) a weakly-radioactive metallic chemical element in the actinide series of the periodic table.27% and 0. thus having six isotopes. the most common of which are U-238 and U-235 (99. Uranium atom consists of 92 protons.72% of natural uranium). 92 electrons (including 6 valence ones) and between 141 and 146 neutrons. .

A nuclear chain reaction can be induced with slow neutrons and maintained only when U-235 or U-233 are present among U-238 in sufficient concentrations (i. U-233. Induced nuclear fission of U-235 Uranium is covered with black oxide coating in the air. All uranium isotopes are unstable and decay slowly by emitting an alpha-particle. releasing neutrons and nuclear binding energy. can be produced from natural thorium.Characteristics Contemporary uses of uranium exploit its unique properties.5 billion years) makes uranium useful in dating the age of Earth and other objects. Fissionability. but can be transmuted to fissile plutonium-239 in a nuclear reactor. . U235 is the only naturally occurring fissile (easily splitting) isotope of uranium. also having high density .7 times as dense as water. Long half-life (U238 4. Uranium is the heaviest naturally occurring element. Another fissile isotope. Uranium atom can be split into two lighter elements. Atomic weight. Weak radioactivity. U-238 is only fissionable with fast neutrons .e. when U-238 is enriched).it is 18.

1945. red and orange colorant in glassmakin g and pottery. supposed it was an unknown element and named it. Tennessee . 1841 EugèneMelchior Péligot isolated metallic uranium. June 27th the first commercial -scale nuclear power station began operation in Obninsk. Industrial mining of uranium was started to extract radium. August 6th Uraniumbased Little Boy bomb was detonated over Hiroshima 1954. 1896 Antoine Becquerel discovered radioactivity by using uranium. 1934-1939 Research of radioactive elements resulted in the discovery of nuclear fission. 1942 Under the Manhattan Project. USSR. Enrico Fermi initiated the first selfsustained nuclear chain reaction. 1898 Pierre and Marie Curie found radioactive radium and polonium in uranium ore.the German chemist Martin Klaproth obtained uranium oxide from pitchblende . Importance of uranium as a weapon material and energy source had been widely acknowledged.Discovery and Studies Martin Henrich Klaproth I century AD Uranium in its natural oxide form had been used as a yellow. 1789 . One of the Manhattan Project s calutrons in Oak Ridge.

More recent and complicated devices are based on uranium-cased plutonium causing hydrogen isotopes to undergo fusion. Early nuclear bombs used U-235 or plutonium-239 derived of U-238. Nuclear explosion Counterweights and balances in military equipment.Military Application Fissile explosive material for nuclear weapons. Armour-piercing ammunition due to high density. Anti-radioactive shielding due to low radioactivity and high density (more effective than lead). Bullet shell made of depleted uranium .

Controlled fission chain reaction creates heat by splitting U-235 atoms.Civilian Application Fuel for nuclear power plants. Making of high-energy X-rays Radiometric dating Formerly used in glass-making. One kilogram of uranium-235 can theoretically produce about 80 terajoules of energy or as much as 3000 tonnes of coal. producing electricity. By now over 440 nuclear reactors operate all over the world. Nuclear plants typically use fuel enriched to 3% of U-235. pottery. photography . making water steam spin a turbine to drive a generator.

an important secondary uranium mineral Cuprosklodowskite CuUO2SiO2OH2 6H2O. U2O5). autunite (with calcium). The most common are gummite. Uraninite or Pitchblende A large variety of secondary uranium minerals are known.Uranium Minerals The primary uranium ore mineral is uraninite (UO2) or pitchblende (UO3. commonly collectively referred to as U3O8(the most stable form). . Autunite crystals under the microscope Torbernite. and hydrated uranium silicates such as coffinite and uranophane (with calcium). saleeite (magnesium) and torbernite (with copper). many of which are brilliantly coloured and fluorescent.

U)(Ti. rare U3O7 U(SiO4)1 x(OH)4x UTi2O6 (REE)(Y.Uranium Minerals Primary uranium minerals Name uraninite pitchblende coffinite brannerite davidite Name autunite carnotite gummite seleeite torbernite tyuyamunite uranocircite uranophane zeunerite Chemical Formula UO2 U3O8.Fe3+)20O38 Secondary uranium minerals Chemical Formula Ca(UO2)2(PO4)2 x 8-12 H2O K2(UO2)2(VO4)2 x 1 3 H2O gum like amorphous mixture of various uranium minerals Mg(UO2)2(PO4)2 x 10 H2O Cu(UO2)2(PO4)2 x 12 H2O Ca(UO2)2(VO4)2 x 5-8 H2O Ba(UO2)2(PO4)2 x 8-10 H2O Ca(UO2)2(HSiO4)2 x 5 H2O Cu(UO2)2(AsO4)2 x 8-10 H2O .

of which the most economically significant are unconformity-related and sandstone deposits. Uranium reserves distribution . and its tiny concentrations can be found almost everywhere. but the challenge is to find areas with adequate concentrations for economically viable extraction. The latter are common in the Southern Kazakhstan. IAEA classification (1996) lists 15 main deposit types.Uranium Ore Deposits Uranium on Earth is 40 times more common than silver and 500 times more common than gold.

Though the early uranium boom of 1950s made Moab. nowadays the Big Three of uranium market are Canada. Uranium mines operate in some 20 countries. these six accounting for 85% of the world s mined uranium. Uranium mining distribution in 2007 .Uranium Mining ‡     The contemporary economically viable methods of uranium extraction include: Open pit mining Underground mining In-situ leaching Uranium recovery from seawater has been also tried and found uneconomical. Australia and Kazakhstan. The worldwide production of uranium in 2009 amounted to 50 572 tons. Utah the world s uranium capital and large deposits were discovered in Siberia around that time. 58% of world production comes from 10 mines in six countries. of which 27% was mined in Kazakhstan. The diagram to the right shows distribution of uranium mining volumes by countries in 2007.

A shaft is sunk in the vicinity of ore veins. and gold. Underground mining is employed when deposits occur at larger depths. and ore is extracted from a large pit. from which the ore is extracted. and crosscuts are driven horizontally from the shaft to the veins at different levels. they can be accessed by open cut mining. Uranium mine near Moab. e.g. Ultimately the shaft and tunnels form a structure of the mine with several stopes. Disadvantages of the method include much waste material. If orebodies lie close to the surface. high airborne dust levels (suppressed by water) and significant alteration of landscape. Utah . underground mining of uranium is more dangerous for workers due to radiation exposure and release of Radon-222 gas causing cancer. Overlying rock is removed by blasting and excavation. damage to fertile soils. silver or copper are often mined in association with uranium.Open-Pit and Underground Mining These mining methods are no different from mining other metals or minerals. Though less waste material is removed from underground mines.

Weakly acidified groundwater (or alkaline groundwater where the ground contains a lot of limestone with a lot of oxygen in it) is circulated through an enclosed underground aquifer. The general scheme of an ISL wellfield . ISL mining means that removal of the uranium minerals is accomplished without any major ground disturbance.In Situ Leach Mining Some orebodies lie in groundwater in porous unconsolidated material (such as gravel or sand) and may be accessed simply by oxygenating the groundwater and pumping it out with dissolved uranium this is in-situ leach (ISL) mining. The leaching solution dissolves the uranium before being pumped to the surface treatment plant where the uranium is recovered as a precipitate. Most US and Kazakh uranium is produced by this method.

The resulting pregnant solution proceeds through several stages. circulating in a closed technological cycle.In Situ Leach Mining: Leaching The uranium ions are selectively transferred into the solution in the result of chemical processes involving decomposition of uraniumbearing substances by leachants and ion exchange. .

a solution of high uranium content. The denitrated resin returns back to the sorption columns. Following precipitation. .In Situ Leach Mining: Processing Unit As the process is complete. In the refinery the yellow cake is dissolved for organic extraction. a process allowing for additional purification by organic substances. drying and thermal decomposition operations the refinery produces U3O8. For uranium precipitation from the eluate Kazatomprom uses caustic soda. Saturated resin is supplied to desorption columns. At this stage the uranium is stripped off the resin by a nitrate solution. the uranium bearing solution is supplied into sorption columns. Obtained slurry is filtered and dried into ( torrefaction ) yellow cake. producing eluate. The ion-exchange resin intakes the uranium ions from the pregnant solution.

With the use of wellfield pipeline system including the submersible pumps or an airlift or their combination the uraniumbearing solutions are supplied to the surface through the productive wells. From the collecting tanks the solutions proceed to sorption columns. The uranium bearing solutions are accumulated from a number of productive wells in accumulating tanks.In Situ Leach Mining: Recirculation The solution resulted after sorption collected in settling ponds to reduce remaining solid impurities. . The refined solutions after adding sulfuric acid are returned to the well house. From the well house solutions go via a distribution unit to the wellfield under the pressure of 5-6 atmospheres. The leaching solution penetrates through filters of the injection wells to the underground productive horizon where the uranium transfers into the solution.

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