Environmental Geology

, Volume 26, Issue 1, pp 19–31 | Cite as

US Geological Survey research on the environmental fate of uranium mining and milling wastes

  • E. R. Landa
  • J. R. Gray
Article

Abstract

Studies by the US Geological Survey (USGS) of uranium mill tailings (UMT) have focused on characterizing the forms in which radionuclides are retained and identifying factors influencing the release of radionuclides to air and water. Selective extraction studies and studies of radionuclide sorption by and leaching from components of UMT showed alkaline earth sulfate and hydrous ferric oxides to be important hosts of radium-226 (226Ra) in UMT. Extrapolating from studies of barite dissolution in anerobic lake sediments, the leaching of226Ra from UMT by sulfate-reducing bacteria was investigated; a marked increase in226Ra release to aqueous solution as compared to sterile controls was demonstrated. A similar action of iron(III)-reducing bacteria was later shown. Ion exchangers such as clay minerals can also promote the dissolution of host-phase minerals and thereby influence the fate of radionuclides such as226Ra. Radon release studies examined particle size and ore composition as variables. Aggregation of UMT particles was shown to mask the higher emanating fraction of finer particles. Studies of various ores and ore components showed that UMT cannot be assumed to have the same radon-release characteristics as their precursor ores, nor can226Ra retained by various substrates be assumed to emanate the same fraction of radon. Over the last decade, USGS research directed at offsite mobility of radionuclides from uranium mining and milling processes has focused on six areas: the Midnite Mine in Washington; Ralston Creek and Reservoir, Colorado; sites near Canon City, Colorado; the Monument Valley District of Arizona and Utah; the Cameron District of Arizona; and the Puerco River basin of Arizona and New Mexico.

Key words

Uranium mining Milling wastes Radionuclides 

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

References

  1. Benes P, Sedlacek J, Sebesta F, Sandrik R, and John J (1981) Method of selective dissolution for characterization of particulate forms of radium and barium in natural and waste waters. Water Res 15:1299–1304Google Scholar
  2. Eberl DD and Landa ER (1985) Dissolution of alkaline earth sulfates in the presence of montmorillonite. Water Air Soil Pollut 25:207–214Google Scholar
  3. Essed AM (1981) Distribution of radium in water and sediments of Ralston Creek and reservoir-applications of a direct deemanation method of analysis. Colorado School of Mines unpublished Master's thesis. 88 ppGoogle Scholar
  4. Gray JR and Fisk GG (1992) Monitoring radionuclide and suspended sediment transport in the Little Colorado River basin, Arizona and New Mexico, USA. In: International symposium on erosion and sediment transport monitoring programmes in riverbasins. Wallingford, Oxfordshire. UK: International Association of Hydrological Sciences, IAHS Press, IAHS 210. pp 505–516Google Scholar
  5. Gray JR and Webb RH (1991) Radionuclides in the Puerco and Lower Little Colorado river basins, New Mexico and Arizona, before 1987. US Geol Surv Bull 1971:297–311Google Scholar
  6. Gorby Y and Lovley DR (1992) Enzymatic uranium precipitation. Environ Sci Technol 26:205–207Google Scholar
  7. Hearne GA and Litke DW (1987) Ground-water flow and quality near Canon City, Colorado. US Geological Survey Water Resources Investigations Report 87-4014. 72 ppGoogle Scholar
  8. Hebel LC and others (1978) Report to the American Physical Society by the study group on nuclear fuel cycles and waste management. Rev Modern Phys 50(1)part II: S1-S186Google Scholar
  9. Hem JD (1985) Study and interpretation of the chemical characteristics of natural water, (2nd ed). US Geological Survey Water Supply Paper 2254Google Scholar
  10. Ibrahim SA, Flot SL, and Whicker FW (1982a) Concentrations and observed behavior of226Ra and210Po around uranium mill tailings: Proceedings of the international symposium on management waste from uranium mining and mining. Albuquerque, NM, 10–14 May 1982. IAEA, Vienna, OECD Nuclear Energy Agency, Paris. pp 339–352Google Scholar
  11. Ibrahim SA, Flot SL, and Whicker FW (1982b) Concentration and biological availability of238U and230Th in the environs of a uranium milling operation. Proceedings of the symposium on uranium mill tailing management. Fort Collins, Colorado, 9–10 December 1982. Geotechnical Engineering Program, Civil Engineering Department, Colorado State University, Ft. Collins, Colorado. pp 149–163Google Scholar
  12. Lakshmanan VI and Ashbrook AW (1978) Radium balance studies at the Beaverlodge mill of Eldorado Nuclear Limited. In: Seminar on management, stabilisation and environmental impact of uranium mill tailings. Paris: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development/Nuclear Energy Agency. pp 51–64Google Scholar
  13. Landa ER (1980) Isolation of uranium mill tailings and their component radionuclides from the biosphere; some earth science perspectives. US Geological Survey Circular 814. 32 ppGoogle Scholar
  14. Landa ER (1982) Leaching of radionuclides from uranium ore and mill tailings. Uranium 1:53–64Google Scholar
  15. Landa ER (1987a) Radium-226 contents and Rn emanation coefficients of particle-size fractions of alkaline, acid and mixed tailings. Health Phys 52:303–310Google Scholar
  16. Landa ER (1987b) Influence of ore type and milling process on222Rn emanation coefficients of U mill tailings. Health Phys 53: 679–683Google Scholar
  17. Landa ER (1991) Leaching of226Ra from components of uranium mill tailings. Hydrometallurgy 26:361–368Google Scholar
  18. Landa ER and Bush CA (1990) Geochemical hosts of solubilized radionuclides in uranium mill tailings. Hydrometallurgy 24:361–372Google Scholar
  19. Landa ER, Miller CL, and Updegraff DM (1986) Leaching of226Ra from uranium mill tailings by sulfate-reducing bacteria. Health Phys 51:509–518Google Scholar
  20. Landa ER, Phillips EJP, and Lovley DR (1991) Release of226Ra from uranium mill tailings by microbial Fe(II) reduction. Appl Geochem 6:647–652Google Scholar
  21. Landa ER, Le AH, Luck RL, and Yeich PJ (1994) Sorption and coprecipitation of trace quantities of thorium with various minerals under conditions simulating an acid uranium mill effluent environment. Inorg Chim Acta 229(1–2): 247–252Google Scholar
  22. Levins DM, Ryan RK, and Strong KP (1978) Leaching of radium from uranium tailings. In: OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (Ed), Proceedings of the management, stabilization and environmental impact of uranium mill tailings. Albuquerque, NM: OECD Nuclear Energy Agency Seminar. pp 271–286Google Scholar
  23. Linke WF (1958) Solubilities of inorganic and metal-organic compounds, Vol. I, 4th ed. Washington, DC: American Chemical Society. 1487 ppGoogle Scholar
  24. Longsworth SA (1994) Geohydrology and water chemistry of abandoned uranium mines and radiochemistry of spoil-material leachate, Monument Valley and Cameron areas, Arizona and Utah. US Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigation Report 93-4226, 43 pGoogle Scholar
  25. Lovley DR and Phillips EJP (1992) Bioremediation of uranium contamination with enzymatic uranium reduction. Environ Sci Technol 26:2228–2234Google Scholar
  26. Lovley DR, Phillips EJP, Gorby YA, and Landa ER (1991) Microbial reduction of uranium. Nature 360:413–416Google Scholar
  27. Miller CL, Landa ER, and Updegraff DM (1987) Ecological aspects of microorganisms inhabiting uranium mill tailings. Microb Ecol 14:141–155Google Scholar
  28. Morrison SJ and Cahn LS (1991) Mineralogical residence of alphaemitting contamination and implications for mobilization from uranium mill tailings. J Contamin Hydrol 8:1–21Google Scholar
  29. National Lead Company (1960) Winchester Laboratory Topical Rep WIN-112. USAEC. 97 ppGoogle Scholar
  30. Nirdosh I and Muthuswami SV (1988) Distribution of230Th and other radionuclides in Canadian uranium mill streams. Hydrometallurgy 20:31–47Google Scholar
  31. Phillips EJP, Landa ER, and Lovley DR (1994) Remediation of uranium-contaminated soils with bicarbonate extraction and microbial U (VI) reduction. J Ind Microbiol (in press)Google Scholar
  32. Ryabchikov DI and Gol'braikh EK (1969) Analytical chemistry of thorium. Ann Arbor, MI: Humphrey Science Publisher. 289 ppGoogle Scholar
  33. Ryon AD, Hurst FJ, and Seeley FG (1977) Nitric acid leaching of radium and other significant radionuclides from uranium ores and tailings. Oak Ridge National Laboratory Report ORNL/TM-5944. 36 ppGoogle Scholar
  34. Seeley FG (1976) Problems in the separation of radium from uranium ore tailings. Hydrometallurgy 2:249–263Google Scholar
  35. Sill CW (1977) Simultaneous determination of238U,234U,230Th,226Ra, and210Pb in uranium ores, dusts, and mill tailings. Health Phys 33:393–404Google Scholar
  36. Skeaff JM (1981) Survey of the occurrence of Ra-226 in the Rio Algom Quirke I uranium mill, Elliot Lake. Can Inst Min Metall Bull 74:115–121Google Scholar
  37. Steger HF and Legeyt M (1987) Radium-226 in uranium mill tailing. I. Fate and consequent dissolution. J Radioanal Nucl Chem Articles 111:95–104Google Scholar
  38. Stieff LR (1985) The characterization of uranium mill tailings using alpha-sensitive nuclear emulsions. In: Symposium on uranium mill tailings management, 9–10 December 1982, Geotechnical Engineering Program, Civil Engineering Dept, Colorado State University Ft. Collins, Colorado. pp 559–568Google Scholar
  39. Sumioka SS (1991) Quality of water in an inactive uranium mine and its effects on the quality of water in Blue Creek, Stevens County, Washington, 1984–85. US Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigation Report 89-4110. 62 ppGoogle Scholar
  40. US Department of Energy (1993) Annual status report on the uranium mill tailings remedial action project. US Department of Energy Report DOE/EM-0001.Google Scholar
  41. US Department of Energy (1994) Integrated data base for 1993. US spent fuel and radionactive waste inventories, projections, and characteristics. US Department of Energy Report DOE/RW-0006. rev. 9Google Scholar
  42. US Environmental Protection Agency (1991) 40 CFR Parts 141 and 142. National primary drinking water regulations; radionuclides; proposed rule. Federal Register, July 181991. pp 33050–33127Google Scholar
  43. Van Metre PC and Gray JR (1992) Effects of uranium mining discharges on water quality in the Puerco River basin, Arizona and New Mexico. Hydrol Sci J 37(5): 463–480Google Scholar
  44. Webb RH, Rink GR, and Favor BO (1987) Distribution of radionuclide and trace elements in ground water, grasses, and surficial sediments associated with the alluvial aquifer along the Puerco River, northeastern Arizona—a reconnaissance sampling program. US Geological Survey Open-File Report 87-206. 105 ppGoogle Scholar
  45. Whitman A and Beverly RG (1958) Radium balance in the Monticello acid R.I.P. uranium mill. US Atomic Energy Commission WIN-113. 23 ppGoogle Scholar
  46. Wirt L (1993) Use of uranium-234/uranium-238 as an environmental tracer of uranium-mining contamination in ground water. Am Geophys Union 74(43) supplement:298Google Scholar
  47. Wirt L, Van Metre PC, and Favor B (1991) Historical water-quality data, Puerco River basin, Arizona and New Mexico. US Geological Survey Open-File Report 91-196. 339 ppGoogle Scholar
  48. Yang IC and Edwards KW (1984) Releases of radium and uranium into Ralston Creek and Reservoir, Colorado, from uranium mining. In: Barney GS, Navratil JD, and Schulz WVV (Eds), Geochemical behavior of disposed radioactive waste. Symposium series 246. Washington, DC: American Chemical Society. pp 271–286Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • E. R. Landa
    • 1
  • J. R. Gray
    • 1
  1. 1.US Geological Survey430 National CenterRestonUSA

Personalised recommendations