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Uranium Recovery (Extraction) Methods

The mining and milling activities associated with uranium recovery involve two distinct extraction processes:

  • In mining, uranium ore is extracted from the Earth, typically through deep underground shafts or shallow open pits. This traditional method has largely become obsolete since the introduction of alternative extraction methods, in which chemical solutions are injected into underground deposits to dissolve (leach) uranium from the ore.

  • In milling, the mined ore is crushed, and a second extraction process chemically leaches the uranium from the ore and concentrates it to produce a material, which is called "yellowcake" because of its yellowish color.

Similarly, there are two primary milling methods — conventional milling and in situ recovery (ISR) — that are currently used to extract uranium from mined ore. A third method, known as heap leaching, has also been used to extract uranium from ore at conventional mills, and ion-exchange procedures have been used to separate uranium from the liquid extract at both conventional mills and ISR facilities. However, heap leach and ion-exchange facilities that were initially licensed by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) no longer operate and are in the process of decommissioning.

For additional information, see the following related pages:

Page Last Reviewed/Updated Thursday, May 23, 2013