Uranium is a metallic chemical element with a silvery-white appearance. It has the atomic number 92 and is represented on the periodic table by the symbol U. Uranium is well known for being naturally radioactive.
In 1789, a German chemist named Martin Heinrich Klaproth discovered uranium. He dissolved the mineral pitchblende in nitric acid and then added potash to the slush. When the latter two reacted in a unique way he realized that he had found an unknown metal. Klaproth thought it was pure uranium but it was uranium oxide. Pure uranium was not extracted until 1841.
Although not officially recognized by the history books as a discovery before 1789, uranium oxide was known and used from A.D.79. It was used as a dye for glass and ceramic glazes.
Uranium has a silver-gray metallic appearance. It is ductile, malleable, and paramagnetic. While strongly electropositive, uranium is a poor electrical conductor. The metal is very dense (19.1 g/cm3) and with all its isotopes unstable, it is also slightly radioactive.
Uranium is a toxic metal. Prolonged exposure can cause serious damage to the organs, reproductive system and brain. Inhaled uranium causes lung cancer. Uranium compounds can also cause birth defects. Ingesting uranium can cause cancer of the bone or liver.
Uranium ore is found in different geological states. It is found in intrusive rocks, granite, hematite-rich granite breccia, near volcanic calderas, inside metasomatic deposits, metamorphic-type in metavolcanic areas unrelated to granite, and deposits of silver and gold. Uranium is a global phenomenon and represents 2.8 parts per million in the Earth's crust.
Uranium has essential applications in important fields. It fuels nuclear power stations and generates electricity. The military uses the element in nuclear weapons and submarines. Depleted uranium is used as ship ballast, aircraft counterweights, armor, and ammunition. Uranium is also used as a diagnostic tool in medicine and in X-ray devices.
When deposits of uranium are near the surface, miners normally extract the metal by digging open pits. Deep deposits are reached through tunnels and the rocks are brought to the surface through subterranean tunnels. Uranium mills crush the ore. The next step is to create "yellow cakes," which is concentrated uranium. This can be accomplished through different chemical processes.
In 2020, the global production of uranium was an estimated 49,700 tons of which Canada and Kazakhstan produced nearly 60%.
The demand for the commodity in the fields of energy, nuclear fuel, security, and other important industrial functions keeps the uranium market attractive as a means to invest.
Due to the radioactive nature of uranium, the physical buying and selling of the metal are prohibited to the public. However, investors can trade uranium futures, ETFs, shares, and CFDs.
The uranium price is influenced by four major drivers. These include the demand for nuclear power, global supply sources, global inventories, and macroeconomic factors.
Investors can view information charts about uranium, including historical data and forecasts. The uranium price can be viewed in US dollars per pound. In 2007 uranium prices hit an all time high of nearly $150 USD per pound. After crashing to below $50 per lb, the price briefly spiked to nearly $75 in 2011. Since then the price has mostly remained between $25 and $50 USD per pound. Recent increases are driven by high demand from Canada, China, and the US for their clean energy programs.
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