Technology.am (Sept. 07, 2009) — Researchers at Birmingham University have recovered uranium from the polluted waters from uranium mines by using bacteria and inositol phosphate, a chemical analogue of a cheap waste material from plants.
Professor Lynne Macaskie at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh said that the same technology can also be used to clean up nuclear waste.
He used E. coli bacteria to break down a source of inositol phosphate, a phosphate storage material in seeds, to free the phosphate molecules.
The phosphate then binds to the uranium forming a uranium phosphate precipitate on the bacterial cells that can be harvested to recover the uranium.
This process was first described in 1995, but then a more expensive additive was used and that gave low price of uranium, made the process uneconomic.
The discovery of inositol phosphate was potentially six times more effective as well as being a cheap waste material means that the process becomes economically viable.
Use of low-grade inositol phosphate from agricultural wastes would bring the cost down still further and the economic benefit will also increase as the price of uranium is forecast to rise again.