Underwater sponges could soak up uranium for nuclear power stations in Japan
Uranium farms on the seabed could help end the country's reliance on imports for its nuclear power stations.
Thu, Jun 25, 2009 at 01:58 PM
Japan depends on the sea for many aspects of life, so it’s no surprise that the island nation would find an energy solution in the waters off its coast. Government-funded scientists have drafted plans to place giant ‘uranium farms’ on the seabed to extract uranium from the ocean.
This method would likely be more environmentally friendly than mining, and would solve the problem of dwindling supply from conventional mining operations.
An estimated 4.5 billion tons of uranium can be found in the world’s oceans – about 1,000 times that which is thought to be contained within uranium mines. Though the concentration of uranium in the sea is small at about 3.3 billion parts per million, a new fabric made primarily of irradiated polyethelene could soak up enough of the radioactive element to run the country’s nuclear power plants.
Dr. Masao Tanada, creator of the innovative fabric, believes that Japan could harvest all the uranium it needs from the Kuroshio Current, which flows along Japan’s eastern seaboard. He’s seeking funding to construct a uranium farm covering 400 square miles.
"At the moment, Japan has to rely on imports of uranium from Canada and Australia, but this technology could be commercially deployed in as little as five years," he said.
"Other countries are conducting similar research but none are as advanced as we are," he said. "We need to conduct more development research and be able to produce the adsorbent material on a large scale, but we could achieve this within five years."