Uranium is one of the most sought-after metals on the planet. It can be used for both constructive and destructive purposes: as a source of power and as a weapon. Over the past two years the price of uranium has risen more than 250% as demand continues to grow while reserves are shrinking.

The planet’s densest metal, uranium can be spliced and repurposed in large reactors in order to produce electricity. Trace elements of uranium can be found in most of the earth’s rocks, but not in large enough concentrations to be usable. The largest deposits of uranium are located in Canada and South Africa. Uranium can sometimes be produced as a by-product of other precious metals, such as gold. In order to extract uranium from its source, it is mined, then ground up and bathed in acid, which dissolves away the other rocks, leaving the “pure” uranium.

Inside a nuclear reactor, a uranium atom is spilt, which gives off an incredible amount of energy. When uranium atoms are split repeatedly, a very large amount of heat can be produced. This heat is used to boil the water that turns into the steam that powers the nuclear generator.

The type of uranium used as a power source is different from the uranium used to make a nuclear weapon—the variety used to construct weapons is highly enriched, although if it is depleted, this uranium can also be used as a power source. Recently the world was put on edge after North Korea announced that it had tested a nuclear missile. Now it looks as though other countries, like Iran, are enriching their uranium supply in order to produce their own nuclear weapon.

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