Uranium Recovery (Extraction) Methods

Uranium recovery involves one of the following extraction processes.  

  • In a conventional uranium mine and mill, uranium ore is extracted from the Earth, typically through deep underground shafts or shallow open pits.  The ore is transported to a mill, where it is crushed and undergoes a chemical process to remove the uranium.  The uranium is concentrated to produce a material called "yellowcake" because of its yellowish color.  Alternatively, uranium may be recovered from the ore using a heap leach process.  In the heap leach process, the ore is placed on a engineered barrier and sprayed with acid.  The uranium dissolves into solution and is collected at the engineered barrier.  The solution undergoes additional chemical processing to produce "yellowcake". 

  • In the in-situ recovery (ISR) process, a solution called lixiviant (typically containing water mixed with oxygen and/or hydrogen peroxide, as well as sodium carbonate or carbon dioxide), is pumped into the subsurface.  The lixiviant dissolves the uranium into the solution.  The solution is then pumped to the surface, where it undergoes additional processing and concentration to produce a material called "yellowcake".  ISR is currently the dominant method used to extract uranium in the United States.  However, the ISR method can only be performed under certain subsurface conditions.  

For additional information, see the following related pages: