How do we mine uranium?
Uranium is a commonly found element in the Earth’s crust and ore deposits are distributed across the globe, with the highest concentrations in Australia, Kazakhstan and Canada.
There are three main methods for retrieving uranium. It can be extracted using open-pit mining or underground mine shafts. In pit mines, the ore is exposed by drilling and blasting before being cut directly from the ground, while underground shafts are cut for ore buried deeper down.
The third alternative is in-situ leaching, a form of chemical mining. It uses an acid or alkali to dissolve uranium in the ore into a solution, before pumping the fluid to the surface for processing.
Due to its radioactive properties, mining uranium is a dangerous pursuit. As uranium decays it produces radium, which in turn decays to form carcinogenic radon gas. Inhaled radon gas increases the risk of lung cancer. As a result, advanced ventilation systems are installed in uranium mines and workers wear protective gear.