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GEOCHEMICAL INVESTIGATIONS BY THE U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY ON URANIUM MINING, MILLING, AND ENVIRONMENTAL RESTORATION

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Recent research by the U.S. Geological Survey has characterized contaminant sources and identified important geochemical processes that influence transport of radionuclides from uranium mining and milling wastes. 1) Selective extraction studies indicated that alkaline earth sulfates and hydrous ferric oxides are important hosts of 226Ra in uranium mill tailings. The action of sulfate-reducing and ironreducing bacteria on these phases was shown to enhance release of radium, and this adverse result may temper decisions to dispose of uranium mill tailings in anaerobic environments. 2) Field studies have shown that although surface-applied sewage sludge/wood chip amendments aid in revegetating pyritic spoil, the nitrogen in sludge leachate can enhance pyrite oxidation, acidification of groundwater, and the consequent mobilization of metals and radionuclides. 3) In a U.S. Environmental Protection Agencyfunded study, three permeable reactive barriers consisting of phosphate-rich material, zero-valent iron, or amorphous ferric oxyhydroxide have been installed at an abandoned uranium upgrader facility near Fry Canyon, UT. Preliminary results indicate that each of the permeable reactive barriers is removing the majority of the uranium from the groundwater. 4) Studies on the geochemistry of rare earth elements as analogues for actinides such as uranium and thorium in acid mine drainage environments indicate high mobility under acid-weathering conditions but measurable attenuation associated with iron and aluminum colloid formation. Mass balances from field and laboratory studies are being used to quantify the amount of attenuation. 5) A field study in Colorado demonstrated the use of 234U/238U isotopic ratio measurements to evaluate contamination of shallow groundwater with uranium mill effluent.
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Keywords: Environmental restoration; Geochemical investigations; Uranium mining waste

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2000

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  • The journal Technology is a forum for presentation of information encompassing essentially the entire field of applied sciences. Owing to the broad nature of applied sciences, authors should be guided by the interest of the readers who are likely to be knowledgeable non-specialists.
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