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As ore grade degrades, though, the economic and environmental impact of mining Uranium becomes a huge problem in and of itself, at some point maybe even bigger than the nuclear waste problem.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Aug 14th, 2006 at 09:30:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No, it doesn't, and simple math shows it.

Ore grades will never degrade below 4ppm uranium and 12ppm thorium.  That's the concentration in granite, and there's plenty of that.  A 1GW fast breeder[1] will need about 3 tonnes of fuel per year, which at the above concentration amounts to about 500 tonnes of granite per day.  Let's say 1000, allowing for inefficient extraction and some losses.

A coal plant of the same size requires 10 times that amount of coal, leaving a hole in the ground 10 times as large.  This environmental impact is not considered larger than that of radwaste, so the same should go for mining rocks.

"He who refuses to do arithmetic is doomed to talk nonsense." -- John McCarthy

[1] Yes, a breeder is needed.  An LMFBR would work, a molten fluoride or molten chloride reactor might, too.  It is completely clear that nobody would burn such low grade ore in a light water reactor.

by ustenzel on Thu Aug 17th, 2006 at 04:52:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
what about noble gas emissions? and radioactive element migration in rain streams?

Rien n'est gratuit en ce bas monde. Tout s'expie, le bien comme le mal, se paie tot ou tard. Le bien c'est beaucoup plus cher, forcement. Celine
by UnEstranAvecVueSurMer (holopherne ahem gmail) on Sat Aug 19th, 2006 at 02:41:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, what about them?  Do you want to know how much radon a coal power plant emits?  Or how much uranium is leached out by rain from the 200.000 tonnes of ashes the coal plant dumps every year into unsecured landfills?  

Also, we're talking about mining common rocks.  Rock isn't dangerous, unless thrown at high velocity!  Bad Stuff is constantly leached out by rain, because... well, because rocks lie everywhere!  Noble gases are emitted when tilling a field, because, you guessed it, because a field is just a lot of tiny rocks.

So what about them, huh?

by ustenzel on Sat Aug 19th, 2006 at 04:22:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm surprised to hear we mine normal rocks to get fuel. Funny we have to do it in Canada and Australia then.

Rien n'est gratuit en ce bas monde. Tout s'expie, le bien comme le mal, se paie tot ou tard. Le bien c'est beaucoup plus cher, forcement. Celine
by UnEstranAvecVueSurMer (holopherne ahem gmail) on Mon Aug 21st, 2006 at 05:26:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You could at least have tried to take context into account.  The question was "How bad can uranium mining become?" and the answer is "Not as bad as coal mining already is, even if we need to mine ordinary rock."

The three million tonnes coal burned each year in a coal plant contain about 5 tonnes uranium.  All the radon associated with that uranium is emitted (and some of the uranium, too).  5 tonnes uranium would fuel a nuclear power plant for two years, and when mining uranium, most radon is contained until it decays.  Therefore, nuclear plants emit much less than half as much radon as coal plants, no matter what ore is used.  The same applies to soluble radioactive substances, which are easily leached from coal ashes.

If coal plants don't kill all life on earth, uranium mining will do it even less.

by ustenzel on Mon Aug 21st, 2006 at 08:05:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But for each tU, there are 400 tons of tailing.

And when they do in situ leeching, here is what the IEA has to say about it:

« The technique of in situ leaching extracts uranium ore by percolating a solvent through the uranium bearing rock. Ammonium carbonate and sulphuric acid are common leaching agents. This technique reduces the radiation exposure of workers and avoids the creation of mine tailing heaps, but it increases the risk of groundwater contamination. Heavy metals such as cadmium, arsenic and nickel can be mobilised by the process and enter water supplies. Waste slurries and waste water from the leaching operation must be carefully handled and treated.

BTW, i know very little about all of this. I'm guessing in situ leeching produces less tailings.

Lastly, I don't get the comparison with coal-fuelled plants. I don't think it makes sense to compare the two alternatives on a step to step basis. The overall picture has to be taken into account. Arguing which alternative pollutes the less says little on which option is better for electricity generation.

Rien n'est gratuit en ce bas monde. Tout s'expie, le bien comme le mal, se paie tot ou tard. Le bien c'est beaucoup plus cher, forcement. Celine

by UnEstranAvecVueSurMer (holopherne ahem gmail) on Mon Aug 21st, 2006 at 10:31:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And what's inert rock ("tailings") got to do with radon emissions?  Exactly nothing.

Listen, the whole point is, no matter how poor the uranium ore is going to get, it will never be as dirty as burning coal!  Those kooks with their constant "but all the damage done by uranium mining!" should get a grip on reality and rally against coal plants, because of "all the damage done by coal mining".

by ustenzel on Wed Aug 23rd, 2006 at 07:02:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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