Uranium Seawater Extraction

Jack Jones
March 11, 2017

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2017


Fig. 1: This picture depicts a group of Uranium pellets, which fuel the nuclear reactors. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Nuclear power plants produce electricity through a process called nuclear fission. Nuclear fission splits Uranium atoms, creating heat. The heat boils water and creates steam. The steam then propels turbines to create electricity. The Uranium atoms are shaped into tiny pellets as seen in Fig. 1 and deposited in the nuclear reactor as fuel. Nuclear power plants use the physical process of nuclear fission to create a huge amount of energy in the form of heat that can be used indirectly to generate electricity. As a result, they do not burn anything, so there is no air pollution or greenhouse gas emission linked with the energy source. Finally, plants can be built anywhere, and if managed efficiently, do not affect their immediate environment.

Uranium Seawater Extraction

Uranium supply is abundant, but nuclear power plants need a certain isotope of Uranium, U-235, which is very rare. Therefore, Uranium is a non-renewable energy source and will eventually run out, a situation that will have disastrous effects on electrical grids. However, America and Japan are getting closer and closer to making nuclear energy totally renewable. [1] If nuclear reactors can be fueled by Uranium extracted from seawater, then nuclear power will be renewable. There are currently 4.5 billion tons of Uranium in seawater. To put this statistic into context, there is roughly 17 million tons of uranium available as a terrestrial resource. [1] Also, Uranium extracted from seawater is recycled constantly, making it as timeless as solar, wind, or hydro. [1]

Economic Impediments

The major conflict associated with ranium being extracted from seawater is its economic viability. Despite high concentrations of Uranium from seawater, Uranium concentration is relatively low compared to the vastness of the oceans, so it costs a lot to extract the element. [1] There are many technical processes to extract Uranium. The best approach currently is to extract Uranium using absorbents located in ocean currents that generate drive and renewal of major flow rates. [1] This technique allows the extraction and production of small quantities of uranium at high prices. [1] Extraction and production on a larger, industrial scale has not been developed. [1] What is more, the final cost of such a production has not even been estimated yet, but experts believe the cost will be disproportionately high. [1] Therefore, there still is not an economically favorable technique.


Nuclear energy is very promising. If we can find an economically viable solution to extracting Uranium from seawater, then we will be able to create clean and sustainable energy. Such a feat would be crucial for our planet, which is currently suffering from the adverse effects of anthropogenic climate change. It is crucial that countries and scientists spearheading the movement continue to work hard to discover a legitimate solution, so we can ensure that future generations live in a healthier and more sustainable world.

© Jack Jones. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] J. Guidez and S. Gabriel, "Extraction of Uranium From Seawater: A Few Facts," EPJ Nuclear Sci. Technol. 2, 10 (2016).