Although the Earth’s oceans only contain uranium in trace amounts (3 parts per billion), if someone put their mind to it and gathered all of the oceanic uranium, 4.5 billion tons would get harvested, enough to fuel our civilization’s energy needs for the next 6,500 years.
This is not news, however. Japan tinkered with oceanic uranium in the 1960s, but at that time it cost too much to make the extraction process a viable one. PNNL and ORNL are now studying how to make harvesting uranium from the oceans a reality.
Back in the 1960s, the Japanese invented an adsorbing material which had attached a substance sticky to uranium, amidoxime, to a plastic polymer. Now, the ORNL researchers reexamined the binding process between the polymer and the amidoxime and increased the latter’s uranium-grabbing properties.
The results have been analyzed at PNNL’s Marine Sciences Laboratory in Sequim, Wash. by using filtered seawater. They discovered that ORNL’s new adsorbent material is two times more effective in grabbing uranium than the Japanese material.