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Sat Jan 28, 2017, 05:16 AM

German Scientists Propose Removing Uranium From Fertilizer.

Uranium was once thought to be a relatively rare element, and at the dawn of the nuclear age, and in the rush to procure it in the 1950's, many low grade ores that are not profitable today were processed to procure the element. Included in these low grade ores was phosphate rock mined in Florida and in other places, ores that are still mined today, not for uranium but for phosphorous, phosphorous being the essential element in fertilizers. Since it is not profitable to remove uranium from phosphate rocks containing it, it is simply left in the fertilizer where it ends up in agricultural fields.

While the levels of uranium in most agricultural fields - particularly those which do not arise from the weathering of granite - uranium is known to be chemotoxic; one of the primary toxilogical target organs are kidneys.

I have argued here and in many other places around the internet that the uranium already mined, when converted to plutonium is sufficient to provide all the energy needs for humanity for centuries to come, and thus all energy related mining, including uranium mining,, but more importantly the mining of the three dangerous fossil fuels are unnecessary, or would be in a rational world, although clearly we do not live in a rational world.

However I have also argued that there are circumstance in which uranium should be isolated, not because we need it to support the only sustainable form of energy there is, nuclear energy, but because it is wise in some cases to remove it from naturally occurring dilute sources such as water supplies.

A longer version of my argument along these lines, with many scientific references is found here: Sustaining the Wind Part 3 – Is Uranium Exhaustible?

Here is an excerpt referring to phosphate ores that I wrote back then:

In some cases for uranium, a few of which we will examine below, this is the result of anthropomorphic activities associated with mining and processing for the manufacture of nuclear armaments as well as for industrial nuclear power, but in others it a simple fact of geology. Neither can we claim that anthropomorphic sources are solely limited to nuclear armaments and nuclear power: For example, as things stand right now, rather large quantities of uranium are routinely distributed on agricultural fields, owing to the affinity that uranium displays for phosphates.[41] (Historically these phosphate ores were evaluated as potential sources of uranium[42], but higher grade ores were found. Had they been exploited for nuclear fuel purposes, of course, the uranium they contained would not have ended up on agricultural fields, but no matter…)


Here is a link to reference 41 in the text: N. Yamaguchi⁎, A. Kawasaki, I. Iiyama, Sci.Tot.Environ.407, 1383–1390 (2009).

Here is a link to reference 42 in the text: J. Agric. Food Chem., 1953, 1 (4), pp 292–292

Since I have made this argument for some time, I was very pleased to see an article, a "scientific opinion" piece, along the same lines published in the most recent issue of Environmental Science and Technology, one of the world's premier scientific journals devoted to environmental issues.

Here is a link to the open source article: To Extract, or not to Extract Uranium from Phosphate Rock, that is the Question (Environ. Sci. Technol., 2017, 51 (2), pp 753–754)

Since the article is open sourced, and not highly technical, there is no need for me to excerpt much of it; however, I will excerpt the first two paragraphs here for convenience:

Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.(1) The implementation of sustainable development across all human activities also requires responsible extraction of our mineral resources. Raw materials can no longer be extracted based on economic grounds alone, social and environmental aspects must also be equally considered. Consequently, good practice guidelines for mining and processing of mineral resources should aim for minimal environmental impacts, protection of human health, total resource use, and zero waste mines.

Phosphate fertilizers are essential for modern agriculture to support an ever increasing world population. These fertilizers are produced from phosphate rock. It is well-known that phosphate rock contains considerable amounts of accompanying uranium, of which the great majority (80–90%) transfers to the final fertilizer product during mineral processing and is thus dispersed on agricultural soils, leading to the contamination of topsoils as well as ground- and surface waters.


The authors assert that even though the uranium isolated from fertilizers would be more expensive than "conventional" uranium, it should be isolated and utilized in any case, simply to avoid excessive distribution of the element in foods.

By the way, uranium, despite what you may have heard elsewhere, is inexhaustible. It is possible to isolate it at a reasonable cost, albeit at a higher cost than can be sustained today, from seawater, in which there is roughly 4 billion tons. (I discussed the regeneration of uranium to seawater should it be removed in the piece linked above.) An entire recent issue of the important scientific journal Industrial Engineering and Chemistry Research was devoted to dissing this point. (Ind. Eng. Chem. Res. Volume 55, Issue 20 (2016)) It was a pleasure to read.

Germany by the way, has a very stupid official energy program, which is involved with shutting its nuclear plants and replacing them with so called "renewable energy" This has not worked, is not working and will not work to arrest the most serious environmental issue in human history, climate change driven by the accumulation of dangerous fossil fuel wastes, chiefly carbon dioxide, in the planetary atmosphere.

Have a nice weekend.

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Reply German Scientists Propose Removing Uranium From Fertilizer. (Original post)
NNadir Jan 2017 OP
eppur_se_muova Jan 2017 #1
NNadir Jan 2017 #2

Response to NNadir (Original post)

Sat Jan 28, 2017, 11:11 AM

1. For those who haven't heard -- phosphates also carry Po-210, which bioaccumulates in tobacco.

http://scienceblog.cancerresearchuk.org/2012/05/24/tobacco-firms-have-failed-to-act-on-radioactivity-in-cigarettes-heres-why/

I don't know of any reason to conclude tobacco is the only crop that does this. Keep in mind that tobacco, tomatoes, potatoes, and tomatillos are all members of the nightshade family.

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Response to eppur_se_muova (Reply #1)

Sat Jan 28, 2017, 03:57 PM

2. This is correct, but Po-210 will always be found where uranium is present and secular equilibrium...

...has been established.

Secular equilibrium can be disturbed by processing of course. A big issue, one generally ignored, is that the secular equilibrium between uranium-238 and its decay daughter Ra-226 is disturbed in the process of fracking in the gas fields in the eastern US, with the radium being carried in the (discarded) flow back water. Radium-226 with a half life of only 1600 years is extremely radioactive, and it in turn establishes secular equilibrium with Po-210 in its decay series.

(This secular equilibrium is disturbed in the oceans, which contain about 4 billion tons of uranium at saturation (currently observed) because of the insolubility of radium carbonate and radium sulfate.)

Thus we have increased the surface load of both radium and polonium by means of satisfying our short term greed - at the expense of all future generations - to have more dangerous natural gas. This problem will remain significant for many thousands of years into the future.

We couldn't care less.

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