Extraction of Uranium from Seawater: Design and Testing of a Symbiotic System

Maha Haji, Ph.D., 2017
Alexander Slocum, Advisor

Seawater is estimated to contain 4.5 billion tonnes of uranium, approximately 1000 times that available in conventional terrestrial resources. Finding a sustainable way to harvest uranium from seawater will provide a source of nuclear fuel for generations to come, while also giving all countries with ocean access a stable supply. This will also eliminate the need to store spent fuel for potential future reprocessing, thereby addressing nuclear proliferation issues as well. While extraction of uranium from seawater has been researched for decades, no economical, robust, ocean-deployable method of uranium collection has been presented to date. This thesis presents a symbiotic approach to ocean harvesting of uranium where a common structure supports a wind turbine and a device to harvest uranium from seawater. The Symbiotic Machine for Ocean uRanium Extraction (SMORE) created and tested decouples the function of absorbing uranium from the function of deploying the absorbent which enables a more efficient absorbent to be developed by chemists. SMORE is shown to have minimal effect on the hydrodynamics of the offshore wind turbine it is attached to while decreasing the production cost of uranium from seawater by 27%.