Posted on November 17, 2015 by Minerals Make Life
Uranium is a naturally radioactive chemical element that is essential for our energy, medical and defense sectors. You may know it’s used to produce nuclear energy, but did you also know it is used to manufacture medical equipment like x-rays and MRI technology? It is also critical to making advanced technologies used by the U.S. military in its advanced defense systems. Known for its density and flexibility, uranium ranks 48th among the most abundant minerals found in natural crustal rocks. In fact, it is found in the Earth’s crust just as often as is tin and molybdenum.
In mining, uranium’s radioisotope can be used to examine welds, detect leaks, study metal wear rates and more. Industrially, it can be used to aid military weaponry, aircraft carriers and vessels. Additionally, it can also be used to alter the color of glass; when added to glass in the form of uranium oxide, it produces a yellow to green hue.
Despite its many different uses, uranium, commonly found in the form of uranium dioxide, is most often used as a source of concentrated energy in the nuclear power industry. When the element is split, it releases energy – a process known as fissionability. There are more than 104 operating domestic nuclear power plants, which are responsible for generating more than 20 percent of our nation’s electricity. What’s more, twelve percent of the world’s electricity is generated from uranium, totaling to more than 2,500 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity annually.
This indispensable mineral can be found throughout the western U.S., where there are 10 producing mines. The U.S. is a major producer of uranium, providing 4.9 million pounds of the mineral in 2014 alone. Our nation’s abundance of uranium positions the U.S. to meet the energy sector’s needs and be a leader in global energy production. However, mine permitting delays continue to inhibit access to this versatile resource.