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Geochemical processes controlling uranium mobility in mine drainages

January 1, 1997

Comprehensive models of ore genesis incorporate metal sources, transport and concentration mechanisms, and preservation mechanisms. Analogous concepts apply to the problem of metal migration from mines, mine wastes, and mine tailings, including: the concentrations, mineralogical occurrence, and availability of metals in mineral deposits, host rocks, mine wastes, and tailings (the source); the mechanisms for metal mobilization and transport during weathering; the mechanisms for metal fixation and the permanence of the fixation. Similarly, undisturbed mineral deposits or alteration zones that are exposed at the Earth's surface may be natural sources from which metals can be solubilized during weathering.

Uranium (U), a naturally-occurring radioactive element, may be present in mineral deposits in sufficient concentrations that in itself constitutes ore. It may also be present in ores of other metals at concentrations that exceed average crustal abundances. Any uranium that is not completely removed from these ores in the mining and milling process may be available for mobilization into ground or surface waters via the weathering and oxidation of solid tailings or mine waste piles. This chapter discusses the relative importance of various geochemical processes that control uranium mobility via weathering in both mined and unmined mineralized environments. The data presented in this paper focus on mined areas because the great extent of historic mining in the field areas examined for this study preclude extensive consideration of undisturbed areas.