Phosphate Rocks and Nuclear Proliferation

Nils Haneklaus, Anastasiya Bayok, Vitaly Fedchenko, "Phosphate Rocks and Nuclear Proliferation," Science & Global Security 25, no. 3 (2017): 143-158

Phosphate rocks are predominantly mined for fertilizer production. However, they also contain considerable amounts of accompanying natural uranium that can exceed concentrations found at commercial uranium mines. Extracting uranium from phosphate rocks during fertilizer production is a technically mature process; it was used on an industrial scale in the United States and elsewhere before decreasing uranium prices made this practice unprofitable in the 1990s. Soon, technical improvements, potentially rising uranium prices, and anticipated environmental regulations may make uranium extraction from phosphates profitable again in the United States and emerging phosphate rock mining centers in Northern Africa and the Middle East. Extracting uranium during phosphate fertilizer production is desirable in a way that otherwise lost resources are conserved and fertilizers with reduced radiotoxic heavy metal content are produced. Phosphate rocks have also been subject to clandestine uranium acquisition. In this work, the relevance of unconventional uranium resources from phosphate rocks is reviewed. A brief overview of the extraction process, a list of the required materials, and a very simple estimation of the amounts of uranium that could be extracted using a container-sized pilot plant which can be integrated into existing fertilizer plants is provided. Lastly, past known unreported uranium extraction activities from phosphate rocks are discussed.

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