Uranium in Groundwater - How did it occur, and can it be fixed?

iserna September 04, 2013

The presence of uranium in groundwater is an issue of great public interest in New Mexico. For many areas in the northeast quadrant of the state, the uranium in underground aquifers has made it unusable for animals or humans. It’s not completely clear how much of the problem should be blamed on natural processes and how much has been caused by uranium mining through the later part of the 20th century.

The fourth component of the RII-4 grant, Uranium Transport and Site Remediation, will allow New Mexico EPSCoR to field a team of researchers to seek scientific answers to some of the complex underlying questions about uranium and groundwater. This grant is unusual because it focuses some of the best scientific minds in the state on the science of specific questions about uranium and groundwater.

During the five-year term of this grant, the Uranium Transport and Site Remediation Team will critically examine how U₄ and U₆ travel in groundwater, both naturally and as a result of human activity. The team will also address these specific research questions:

  • What dissolved and colloidal forms of uranium exist in contaminated underground sites?
  • Is it possible to predict the movement of uranium in groundwater quantitatively?
  • How can uranium be quickly and economically extracted from deep and/or low grade ore deposits without danger of long-term contamination?
  • How can uranium be immobilized to prevent contamination of water sources?
  • Are there technologies that can be applied to current sites of impaired water supplies to restore aquifer water quality?
  • Can mine and mill tailings be “mined” economically to partially offset remediation costs?
  • How has uranium been transported from scattered point sources to other locations in an arid environment?

One of the leaders of the Uranium Transport and Site Remediation research team, Chair of the Chemistry Dept. at UNM Steve Cabaniss says his team is currently in the process of choosing the sites they will use for the research.

Stay tuned for future Uranium Transport and Site Remediation news in which we will discuss the history of uranium mining in New Mexico and explore some of the background that makes uranium mining an issue of great public interest.

To contact Karen Wentworth (UNM):