Uranium is a dense radioactive material that occurs naturally in most rocks, soil, and in the ocean in tiny amounts. Its average concentration in the Earth’s crust is two parts per million – more than gold, but still very tricky to find.
Australia is one of the world’s leading exporters of uranium. We have around 30% of the world’s supply.
The main use of uranium is as the fuel source in nuclear power plants to create pollution-free power.
While the production of the electricity is pollution-free the construction of nuclear plants themselves are very energy intensive and expensive. They take ten years to plan, take ten years to build and no one wants them in their back yard. Because when they go wrong (such as Three Mile Island, Chernobyl or Fukushima), they go really wrong and stay wrong for a very long time.
Uranium is seen by many as a measure to get from the old polluting economy to a clean energy one. France produces 76% of its electricity from nuclear power plants, while Germany is getting rid of them. Australians are not so keen on nuclear power in Australia but are happy to sell uranium to others.
Most people very concerned with the disposal of the nuclear waste, which remains radioactive for thousands of years. This is something that no one wants to live near.
What would we think if we uncovered a nuclear waste dump left by the Roman Empire? What would we say? Perhaps – ‘They were a developing, semi-barbaric culture that had little idea of the impact of their actions over time.’ Hmmmm…
Uranium may have some minor role to play as a bridging source of energy in some specific cases. But like all the other non-renewable energy sources that we dig from the ground, uranium too will run out soon. The proven reserves will be running low by 2080.