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Conceptual framework and approach for conducting a geoenvironmental assessment of undiscovered uranium resources

June 16, 2020

This report presents a novel conceptual framework and approach for conducting a geologically based environmental assessment, or geoenvironmental assessment, of undiscovered uranium resources within an area likely to contain uranium deposits. The framework is based on a source-to-receptor model that prioritizes the most likely contaminant sources, contaminant pathways, and affected environmental media for three common uranium extraction methods—open pit or underground mining with milling and in situ recovery (ISR). Data on regional geology, hydrology, and climate, as well as historical uranium mining and milling records are used to estimate the probable amounts of waste rock, tailings, wastewater, surface land disturbance, and subsurface aquifer disturbance for likely mining methods. Constituents of concern that might take the form of leachates, dust, radon, and sediments formed by chemical and physical weathering are also identified in the geoenvironmental assessment. Finally, areas where constituents of concern are likely to occur and persist in air, land, surface water, and groundwater are indicated by the potential for dispersion of dust by wind, accumulation of radon because of air stagnation, dispersion of sediments and wastewater by runoff, and infiltration of wastewater or leachates with consideration of the likely mobility of contaminants in surface water and groundwater. The geoenvironmental assessment output can be summarized in the following primary products: (1) a descriptive geoenvironmental model; (2) maps and statistics of variables that indicate the potential for constituents of concern to occur and persist in air, land, surface water, and groundwater within a tract that is geologically permissive for the occurrence of uranium; and (3) tables providing estimated or indicated quantities of waste rock, tailings, wastewater, dust, and radon emissions that could be associated with undiscovered uranium resources, if extracted, for each permissive tract. The uranium geoenvironmental assessment could help natural resource managers to prioritize and (or) identify (1) important potential contaminant pathways, (2) management practices required depending on the types of constituents that could be of concern, (3) areas for response in the event of accidental release, and (4) future directions for study. Furthermore, indicators of rock and water volumes potentially associated with an undiscovered uranium deposit may be evaluated to make quantitative comparisons of water required for uranium production or potential waste products generated during uranium extraction from areas permissive for uranium resource occurrence throughout the United States.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2020
Title Conceptual framework and approach for conducting a geoenvironmental assessment of undiscovered uranium resources
DOI 10.3133/sir20185104
Authors Tanya J. Gallegos, Katherine Walton-Day, Robert R. Seal
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2018-5104
Index ID sir20185104
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Colorado Water Science Center

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