Uranium is a chemical element with the symbol U and atomic number 92. It was discovered in Martin Klaproth, a German chemist, in 1789. Uranium is one of the heaviest of all the naturally-occurring elements, about 18.7 times as dense as water. Because of its density, uranium has been used as an abundant source of concentrated energy for over 60 years.
Uranium occurs in most rocks and the Earth’s crust as ton, tungsten, and molybdenum. Uranium found in Earth’s crust is mostly a mixture of two isotopes: uranium-238 and uranium-235. Uranium-238 accounts for about 99.3% of the uranium found while uranium-235 accounts for only 0.7%. The isotope U-235 can be readily split, yielding heat and energy, a process called fission. Because of this, U-235 is good for producing nuclear power.
The element’s radioactivity was founded by French physicist, Antoine H. Becquerel in 1896. Depleted uranium, which is less radioactive than natural uranium, can be used as ballast for ships and counterweights for aircraft.
Uranium is used to power nuclear submarines and nuclear weapons. The bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6, 1945, was the first use of an atomic bomb in warfare. The bomb instantly destroyed everything within a mile radius and the following firestorm devastated miles more. Tens of thousands of people lost their lives.
Mining methods for uranium production have changed over in recent decades. Mining has shifted from underground mines to in situ leaching (ISL). In situ leaching, also called in situ recovery, is a process where the ore is left in the ground and retrieving the minerals by dissolving them and pumping the solution to the surface. In 1990, about 55% of world uranium production came from underground mines. ISL has gradually increased its share of the total, accounting for 57% of the world’s production in 2019. About 7% of the world’s uranium production is uranium is recovered as a by-product.
Worldwide Uranium Production
In 2019, 53,656 tons of Uranium were produced in mines. Over two-thirds of the world’s production of uranium from mines in Kazakhstan, Canada, and Australia. Kazakhstan produced about 43% of the world’s uranium supply in 2019, Canada produced 13% and Australia produced 12%.
The following countries are the top producers of uranium, based on 2019 figures: