Nuclear power depends on a steady supply of uranium. The good news is that we have at least a hundred years worth of uranium. The bad news is that both demand for uranium and the price of production are rising—and a hundred years isn’t all that long. To reinforce our stock of uranium, researchers have proposed a backup plan: gather it from the sea.
For every billion pounds of water in the ocean, there are 3.3 pounds of uranium—we just need to figure out how to extract it. Over at IEEE Spectrum, Dave Levitan describes an effective technique for harvesting the diluted uranium:
A mutated butterfly
Japanese authorities may have cleared out the human population around the ruined Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, but the native wildlife is still there. A month after the accident, scientists who study the pale grass blue butterfly collected 144 near the plant, and found that they had begun to show mutations like dented eyes and deformed wings.
The Fukushima Daiichi power plant in 1975, seen from above.
As of this weekend, when Tomari Nuclear Power Plant was shutdown for maintenance, every last one of Japan’s 54 nuclear plants have Japan has been taken offline. Although the shutdowns are supposed to be temporary, after the power utilities’ mismanagement of the Fukushima disaster last year, the Japanese public has registered increasing distrust for official reassurances that nuclear power can be safe. These shutdowns could conceivably become permanent.
The world’s major economies all use nuclear power to some extent, and Japan, which got about 30% of its power from reactors, was one of the heavier users before the the Fukushima meltdown. Now, public opinion there and the world over has soured toward nuclear power, to the extent that Germany has officially announced plans to abandon nuclear completely by 2022.
In a dank, humid room 45 miles west of Manila is a direct line to the office of the Philippine president. The Bataan Nuclear Power Plant was to be the first nuclear plant in Southeast Asia. That never happened, and the power plant hasn’t generated a single kilowatt-hour since its completion in 1984. Owners sold off the uranium in 1997. In 2011, it was a reborn as a tourist attraction. The phone to the direct line sits on display, never used.
The Bataan plant has proved popular as a tourist destination, getting booked up months in advance. Especially common are Japanese tourists, who are wary about the safety of nuclear power since the Fukushima disaster. In fact, the Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear disasters both pushed Bataan out of favor just when prospects for the nuclear power plant were just looking up. “We don’t need to hire nuclear experts but feng shui masters to get rid of the bad luck,” says Mauro Marcelo, a nuclear engineer who works there.