A natural resource that can be replenished to replace the fraction used up by usage and consumption is known as a renewable resource. The term “nonrenewable resource” or “finite resource” refers to a natural resource that natural processes cannot easily replenish quickly to keep up with use.
The chemical element uranium has the atomic number 92 and the letter U. It is an actinide metal in the periodic table’s silvery-gray series. Uranium is a natural resource that is used for several things.
Several natural resources are renewable. A common question people have is if uranium is renewable or not. Let us check out this natural resource and determine whether it is renewable or nonrenewable.
Is Uranium Renewable or Nonrenewable
Uranium is a heavy fissile material that is necessary for nuclear fission. Despite being a prevalent metal on earth, uranium is a nonrenewable resource. Nonrenewable energy sources are gasses, liquids, and solids extracted from the earth.
The only commercial fossil fuel that is liquid is crude oil. Coal is a solid, while propane and natural gas are often gasses. Fossil fuels include coal, natural gas, propane, and petroleum since they were created from the buried remains of extinct animals and plants that existed millions of years ago.
A substance called uranium ore is mined and transformed into fuel. Not a fossil fuel, uranium. Since they cannot be quickly replaced, these energy sources are considered nonrenewable. Renewable sources of energy can quickly renew themselves organically.
There are 92 electrons and 92 protons in an atom of uranium, among which 6 are valence electrons. All uranium isotopes are unstable, making uranium very mildly radioactive.
The half-lives of uranium’s naturally present isotopes range from 159,200 years to 4.5 billion years. Uranium-235 and uranium-238 are the two isotopes of natural uranium that are the most prevalent.
The element with the largest atomic weight found in the early universe is uranium. Its density is lesser than tungsten or gold and roughly 70% greater than lead.
It is extracted for commercial use from uranium-bearing minerals like uraninite, found naturally in small amounts of a couple of parts per million in water, rock, and soil.
Uranium is a mildly radioactive, silvery-white metal after refinement. Its Mohs hardness of 6 is comparable to that of manganese, titanium, niobium, and rhodium and is strong enough to shred glass.
It is weakly electropositive, ductile, somewhat paramagnetic, malleable, and substantially electropositive. Nearly all non-metal ions and their compounds are reactive with uranium metal, and reactivity increases as temperature rises.
Why is Nuclear Power Nonrenewable?
Uranium is a heavy fissile material that is necessary for nuclear fission. Despite being a prevalent metal on earth, uranium is a nonrenewable resource. An isotope of uranium, uranium-235, is the only one used as fuel in nuclear power plants.
Its readily split-apart atoms are the reason for this. The issue is that this isotope only makes up 0.7% of the uranium in nature. A non-nuclear fuel isotope called uranium-238 makes up the remainder of 99.3 percent of the uranium.
Extracted uranium ore must undergo a milling process to remove uranium from the ore in order to obtain adequate levels of U-235 for nuclear fuel. After milling, uranium should be refined to get the proper composition for nuclear reactor fuel.
There are currently 5.5 million metric tons of identified uranium deposits, and an extra 10.5 million tons are considered undiscovered. Given today’s usage rate, we have around a 230-year supply of uranium, as nuclear energy accounts for about 11% of all energy sources used globally.
How is Nuclear Energy Produced?
Among the most significant sources of electricity today, nuclear energy has low carbon emissions and a small environmental impact. Nuclear reactors generate energy using uranium or, alternately, thorium as a natural resource.
For over 300 years, nuclear energy production can be supported by known uranium resources and any additional resources that can be mined. Additionally, it has been demonstrated that uranium may be “mined” from saltwater.
Currently, this is not economically feasible, but in the future, if natural resources become rarer and more investigation is done to determine how economically efficient it is to extract uranium from salt water, this will become feasible.
Although only a very tiny portion of the uranium employed in these thermal reactors effectively splits into fission products and generates electricity, the quantity of uranium utilized in the commonly used water-cooled nuclear reactors could be greatly improved.
Uranium may be utilized much more effectively by upgrading to fast reactors. This necessitates a change to other, less typical types of coolant. This was known and looked into even before nuclear energy production started.
In truth, the Experimental Breeder Reactor I was a reactor that produced energy before any others. It was chilled with a solution of potassium and sodium rather than water.
There was a tremendous incentive to look for engines that could effectively utilize the uranium at the time because the known uranium reserves were constrained.
These reactors are frequently referred to as “breeding” reactors because they create energy from both the splitting of uranium and the formation of plutonium, which are fissionable uranium isotopes.
The same reactor can convert long-lived radioactive materials into fission products that become significantly less long-lived and radiotoxic by altering the reactor core’s architecture. Nuclear waste could be considerably reduced in quantity and radiotoxicity in this manner.
How Much Uranium is left in the world?
In the earth’s crust, uranium is a reasonably common element. A component of most pebbles and even the oceans is a metal that is about as prevalent as tin or zinc. As of today, the total quantity of uranium in the world was 6,147,800.
Since the 1940s, uranium has been commercially mined. The amount of uranium produced historically is largely well known, but there are still questions on how much was mined in the Soviet Union from 1945 to 1990.
The nuclear building program was drastically scaled back by 1985. In preparation for further plant construction, many utilities secured uranium contracts. An enormous overhang resulted from recognizing these.
As mines deteriorated, several of them reduced output or shut down. Utilities met the demand by using their enormous inventories rather than resorting to new production. The introduction of uranium from the former Soviet Union on the Western market, which began in 1993, contributed to the extension of the supply overhang.
What Happens To Uranium During Nuclear Fission?
The most prevalent nuclear fuel is uranium. Two neutrons and energy are released from the center of a big uranium atom during nuclear fission. The core itself separates into two smaller fission byproducts at the same moment.
Although these elements are not necessarily the same, they all have two things in common: they are very unstable and radioactive. As soon as they struck other uranium atoms, the two neutrons that were released along with the energy split, and the process repeated itself as long as there were still fissile uranium atoms in the reactor.
Can Uranium Be Used as Rocket Fuel?
Uranium can be used as rocket fuel; however, it is not advisable. Hence, most manufacturers do not use it. There are two types of fuel utilized in rockets. There are two types of fuel: solid fuel and liquid fuel.
Solid fuel rockets require both an oxidizer and fuel in order to function. To make the fuel burn, an oxidizer acts as a chemical that is required. Since there is no weather in space, rockets must also bring their oxidizers and fuel. Aluminum is the most often used fuel in solid-fuel rockets.
A substance known as a binder holds the ammonium perchlorate and aluminum together to operate together. The fuel has a somewhat rubbery consistency after being well combined.
Then a case is created out of this rubbery substance. The rocket’s interior warms up due to the energy and heat produced by the burning fuel. Liquid fuel is more prone to be used to power the primary engines.
Liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen make up liquid fuel engines. The fuel is liquid hydrogen, while the oxidizer is liquid oxygen. Recall that the oxidizer aids in fuel combustion.
The hydrogen must be liquid rather than gaseous to fit a small tank on the rocket. Since gasses are light, a larger tank would be needed to store hydrogen gas than liquid hydrogen.
The liquid oxygen and hydrogen combine to form water when pushed into an engine. The energy and steam are produced by water vapor, similar to solid fuel. Liquid and solid fuel are necessary for a rocket to launch into space from the earth.
Since liquid fuel is much more effective and provides greater thrust when burned, you might assume that rockets could carry liquid fuel.
Can Uranium be Recycled?
Yes, uranium can be recycled. Recycling used nuclear fuel to produce fresh fuel and byproducts is possible. However, after five years of use in a reactor, the fuel still contains well over 90 percent of its potential energy.
The United States refuses to recycle spent nuclear fuel. However, other countries like France do. Developing advanced reactor designs that use spent nuclear fuel or operate on it are also under development.
Even the extraction of nuclear fuel poses risks to the environment and human health.
That is to say, even though nuclear energy, like uranium, has advantages over all the other nonrenewable sources of energy like fossil fuels, it would be negligent of us to overlook that it is also a nonrenewable energy source with several downsides related to the production, usage, and radioactive waste disposal.