Aquifer restoration at uranium in situ leach sites
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In situ mining of uranium involves injection of a leaching solution (lixiviant) into an ore-bearing aquifer. Frequently, the ground water in the mined aquifer is a domestic or livestock water supply. As the lixiviant migrates through the ore body, uranium and various associated elements such as arsenic, selenium, molybdenum, vanadium and radium-226 are mobilized in the ground water. Aquifer restoration after in situ mining is not fully understood. Several methods have been developed to restore mined aquifers to pre-mining (baseline) quality. Commonly used methods include ground water sweeping, clean water injection, and treatment by ion exchange and reverse osmosis technologies.
Ammonium carbonate lixiviant was used at one R&D in situ mine. Attempts were made to restore the aquifer using a variety of methods. Efforts were successful in reducing concentrations of the majority of contaminants to baseline levels. Concentrations of certain parameters, however, remained at levels above baseline six months after restoration ceased. Relatively large quantitites of ground water were processed in the restoration attempt considering the small size of the project (1.25 acre). More thorough characterization of the hydrogeology of the site may have enhanced the effectiveness of restoration and reduced potential environmental impacts associated with the project.
This paper presents some of the findings of a research project conducted by the Mineral Resources Waste Management Team at the University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho. Views contained herein do not reflect U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission policy.
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