Uranium is a very dense metallic element that occurs more abundantly than gold, silver and mercury in the earth's crust. Its radioactive decay (and that of its progeny) provides the main source of heat inside the earth.
Uranium was discovered in pitchblende in 1789 by the German chemist, Martin Heinrich Klaproth, but it was not until 1841 that French scientist, Eugene Péligot first isolated it in the metallic state. In 1896, the French physicist Antoine Becquerel discovered the radioactive properties of uranium, and in 1898 Marie and Pierre Curie carried out further pioneering work on atoms, radioactivity and uranium.
Early uses of uranium and other radioactive isotopes included glazes for ceramics and glass. Uranium’s high density means that it can be used in the keels of yachts, and in counterweights for aircraft rudders and elevators.
There are different methods of mining uranium:
>underground mining, and
>in situ recovery
In situ recovery involves circulating a solution through the ground to dissolve the uranium in the ore body, then pumping the solution out and extracting the uranium from it. With in situ recovery method, mine workers are not in direct contact with the ore body. The amount of radiation exposure for mine workers is reduced. As at December 2010, there were three operating mining sites in Australia, from which the uranium oxide concentrate (yellow-cake) is exported. These are: Olympic Dam, Beverley (both in South Australia), and Ranger (in the Northern Territory). Uranium mined in Australia is not used to make nuclear weapons. Australia only sells to countries where there are arrangements in place, including verifiable international agreements, to ensure that it is used only for peaceful purposes. International supervision and auditing of material is routine. Uranium meets much of the world’s electricity needs, accounting for 24% of electricity generation in developed countries, 14% worldwide. Uranium is also used by major navies to power ships and submarines. Uranium comprises 40% of Australia’s exports, in thermal energy terms. For Further information please refer to these websites;
>Department of Primary Industries & Resources (PIRSA)
>Geoscience Australia (GA)
>Minerals Council of Australia (MCA)
>Australian Uranium Association
>UraniumSA (Information for Students & Teachers)