U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

 

Date of this Version

2016

Citation

Journal of Environmental Management 183 (2016), pp. 67-83, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvman.2016.08.049.

Comments

U.S. government work.

Abstract

Sandstone-hosted roll-front uranium ore deposits originate when U(VI) dissolved in groundwater is reduced and precipitated as insoluble U(IV) minerals. Groundwater redox geochemistry, aqueous complexation, and solute migration are important in leaching uranium from source rocks and transporting it in low concentrations to a chemical redox interface where it is deposited in an ore zone typically containing the uranium minerals uraninite, pitchblende, and/or coffinite; various iron sulfides; native selenium; clays; and calcite. In situ recovery (ISR) of uranium ores is a process of contacting the uranium mineral deposit with leaching and oxidizing (lixiviant) fluids via injection of the lixiviant into wells drilled into the subsurface aquifer that hosts uranium ore, while other extraction wells pump the dissolved uranium after dissolution of the uranium minerals. Environmental concerns during and after ISR include water quality degradation from: 1) potential excursions of leaching solutions away from the injection zone into down-gradient, underlying, or overlying aquifers; 2) potential migration of uranium and its decay products (e.g., Ra, Rn, Pb); and, 3) potential mobilization and migration of redox-sensitive trace metals (e.g., Fe, Mn, Mo, Se, V), metalloids (e.g., As), and anions (e.g., sulfate). This review describes the geochemical processes that control roll-front uranium transport and fate in groundwater systems, identifies potential aquifer vulnerabilities to ISR operations, identifies data gaps in mitigating these vulnerabilities, and discusses the hydrogeological characterization involved in developing a monitoring program.