Yellowcake (also called urania) is a kind of uranium concentrate powder obtained from leach solutions, in an intermediate step in the processing of uranium ores. Yellowcake concentrates are prepared by various extraction and refining methods, depending on the types of ores. Typically, yellowcakes are obtained through the milling and chemical processing of uranium ore forming a coarse powder which has a pungent odour, is insoluble in water and contains about 80% uranium oxide, which melts at approximately 2878 °C. Although uranium is one of the densest metals on Earth, yellowcake is relatively light, with a density approximately that of elemental sulfur.
Uranium is present in the Earth’s crust at an average concentration of 2 parts per million. Acidic rocks with high silicate, such as granite, have higher than average concentrations of uranium, while sedimentary and basic rocks have lower than average concentrations. Uranite or pitchblende (U3O8), the most common uranium-containing ores, are mixtures of UO2 (basic) and UO3 (amphoteric) oxides. The richest ores are found in the western United States, Canada, Australia, South Africa, the former Soviet Union, and Zaire (the former Belgian Congo). The concentration of U3O8 in ores can vary from 0.5% in Australian ores to 20% in Canadian ores.
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