When we say the word “Uranium” what’s the first thing that comes to mind?
The first thing that comes to mind would be nuclear power, right? We’ve all been exposed to the cliché of Uranium being used as an ingredient to create nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. I guess we got that idea from all those James Bond movies, Red Alert Games, and other sources of media.
That is only half the truth since Uranium was being traded before the Manhattan Project even began. It was used as components in planes and boats because since is 18.7 times denser than water. However that all changed when people discovered the enormous power that Uranium creates during nuclear fission. Because of this Uranium became heavily tied with nuclear power and it has been mainly used for nuclear power ever since.
This change also increased Uranium’s value tenfold. This funny (but not accurate) quote about Uranium best describes how its value has increased after people discovered how valuable it truly is.
“For years uranium cost only a few dollars a ton until scientists discovered you could kill people with it” – Unknown
The Discovery of Uranium
Uranium is a naturally occurring element that currently has the highest atomic number (for naturally occurring elements). It was discovered in 1789 by Martin Klaproth, a German chemist. Klaproth found the element in the mineral called pitchblende or uraninite. It was later named after the planet Uranus, which had been discovered eight years earlier.
Klaproth at that time only discovered the uranium as a metal and as such it was used as components for boats because of its high density and as a counterbalance for airplanes. It wasn’t until in 1841 that uranium was first isolated by the French chemist Eugène-Melchior Péligot. Péligot did this by reducing the anhydrous uranium tetrachloride present in the ore with potassium. Because of this uranium was then used in the coloring of glass which was called “Vaseline glass”.
Uranium’s Nuclear Potential
The discovery of radioactivity in 1896 by Henri Becquerel is what made uranium a truly valuable metal. Becquerel conducted subsequent research on a uranium sample which he used to discover uranium’s radioactive properties. Further research by Enrico Fermi and others on 1934 showed that the 235 Uranium isotope can undergo a chain reaction of nuclear fission and produce massive amounts of power in the process.
This made uranium attractive as a source of nuclear power and for the power industry. But it also attracted the attention of the undergoing Manhattan Project. And through the collaboration of multiple scientists, the “Little Boy” atomic bomb was made.
Is Uranium Dangerous to work with?
The half-life of 238 Uranium isotope being 4 .468 × 109 years which makes uranium a weakly radioactive element. It emits low penetration alpha particles which can be arrested by our own skin. This makes depleted uranium which is composed of mainly 238 Uranium isotope safe to work with, as long as it doesn’t get ingested or inhaled of course.
With further research, scientists have learned to take precaution and they have created various methods and systems to help prevent radioactive poisoning.
So to answer that question. Yes uranium is dangerous to work with and there will always be risks of exposure, but thanks to the latest trends and innovations in technology, the risk can be minimized.
Uranium as a military asset
After the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the world has seen the power the atomic bomb. This changed the whole world, and the supply for uranium was at its all-time high. The Americans wanted to horde as much uranium as it can, while the Soviets were mining it and making little nuclear bombs of their own.
This made uranium a valuable military asset, and this is where we probably got the idea that uranium was used as a nuclear weapons by evil terrorist or mad scientists for their dastardly schemes.
The Price of Uranium
Uranium was at an all-time high during the Cold War but as things began to settle down, and as tensions between the US and Soviets began to dwindle, so did the value of uranium. The value of uranium dwindled until in 2001 where it reached an all-time low of $7 for a single pound of uranium.
But the market is unpredictable and the price of uranium gradually rose again until it rose to a price of $135 for a single pound. That’s a 19 times increase! The price of was high up until 2011 where an unfortunate event occurred.
The Fukushima nuclear power plant had a nuclear meltdown and although no one died (according to the World Nuclear Association), the threat of nuclear breakdowns have people doubting the safety of nuclear power. And after that the uranium market has been struggling ever since.
Should I invest in Uranium?
Because of the Fukushima meltdown, a lot of people are currently wary of nuclear power and as such, the market for uranium is struggling. The market for uranium is currently bleak but no one can tell how the market will be in ten to twenty years from now, so it’s really up to you.