In an effort to end the country’s reliance on imported uranium, Dr Masao Tanada of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency has developed a fabric capable of absorbing uranium directly from seawater.

“At the moment, Japan has to rely on imports of uranium from Canada and Australia, but this technology could be commercially deployed in as little as five years,” says Tanada.

In Canada and Australia, the uranium is extracted in conventional mining operations which are expensive and damaging to the environment.

Dr Tanada is now hoping to secure funding to set up a 400 square mile underwater “uranium farm” consisting of anchored sponges made from the new material; a fabric composed primarily of irradiated polyethylene.

The world’s oceans contain an estimated 4.5 billion tons of uranium; roughly 3.3 parts per billion. Japan uses 8,000 tons of uranium per annum; an amount that Dr Tanada says could be harvested from the Kuroshio Current that flows along Japan’s eastern seaboard. His proposed 400 square mile farm would on its own supply Japan with roughly one-sixth of what it needs to run its nuclear power stations.