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MEI Online: Commodities: Metallic Ores: Uranium: Latest News: June 21st 2015


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:: New Uranium Extraction Method 'Could Boost Industry by $100 Million Annually'


Perth researchers have discovered a method to extract uranium from a mineral long viewed as a waste product in a technique that could boost the industry's value by more than $100 million annually.

Miners have not been able to extract uranium from the mineral brannerite because it was thought it could not be processed.

Murdoch University metallurgical engineering lecturer and research team head Aleks Nikoloski said he believed he had found a way. "The challenge has been to effectively extract uranium from the mineral, because it holds onto the uranium element quite strongly," he said. "So we have identified conditions under which you can achieve this extraction quite efficiently.

"We have studied the reaction chemistry and identified the pathways according to which the reactions take place, so now we know that we can design targeted test work which will optimise the process chemistry for particular ore."

Australia is the world's third-largest uranium producer and the finding is expected to benefit producers and explorers in Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland.

However, the price of uranium, which took a beating after the Fukushima nuclear crisis in Japan, is yet to recover to a point which would make new projects economic, such as Toro Energy's project at Wiluna, in WA's Mid West.

But there is belief in the industry that the price will recover in coming years, with China slating the development of more than 50 new nuclear reactors by 2020.

Dr Nikoloski said the method could produce results for miners within three years, boosting the potential extraction of uranium by up to 15 per cent. "Brannerite accounts for approximately 15 per cent of the total uranium being un-recovered but the value associated with that uranium is lost," he said. "So by adapting the technology and extracting uranium from the mineral brannerite as well, we could potentially increase the extraction by 15 per cent."

Based on Australia's uranium exports from 2013, the boost to output could add more than $100 million to the value of the industry here, he said. "That's related to the current price of uranium and the current production but it gives a ball park figure of the amount of dollars that are associated with the un-extracted uranium found in brannerite," he said.

Murdoch University established a licensed laboratory to study uranium after recent legislative changes allowing tertiary education facilities to research it.




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