Currently there are about 104 nuclear power plants operating in the U.S. that consume approximately 50 million pounds of uranium per year, but annual U.S. domestic uranium production is only about 4.8 million pounds per year. The increase in world-wide demand during the last decade has stimulated the uranium industry to explore for domestic uranium reserves and to develop safe, economical, and effective uranium mining technologies. In-situ recovery (ISR) uranium mining has proven to be a cost effective technology for producing uranium from roll-front deposits that are located in confined sandstone aquifers with adequate permeability. In particular, uranium mining by the ISR process has increased in the South Texas Plain Province during the last several decades. Concomitantly, public concern about potential pollution of groundwater resources and the consequent health impact to the communities around ISR uranium mining sites has increased because roll-front uranium deposits are frequently found in the same formations that serve as groundwater resources for agricultural and domestic uses. As a case study, an area in Kleberg County close to the Kingsville Dome ISR uranium mine was investigated not only to determine the quality of the groundwater in private wells, but also to establish the differences between naturally-occurring uranium and its decay products and contamination due to anthropogenic activities. Fifty private wells were tested in areas surrounding the mining sites during 2010 and 2011, and the concentrations of uranium, radon, thorium, molybdenum, arsenic, selenium, and another 17 elements were determined and compared with EPA primary and secondary drinking water standards to establish the quality of the groundwater. The “Fingerprint Analysis of Leachate Contaminants” (FALCON) methodology, spatial correlation analyses using the Mantel’s test and Partial Mantel’s test, simple linear correlation analyses, and a one-dimensional decay and transport model were used as forensic tools in an attempt to distinguish between naturally-occurring uranium and contamination due to anthropogenic activities. Results provided evidence that the uranium and radon in private wells in areas surrounding the mining sites were due to naturally-occurring mineralization near the private wells and not from anthropogenic activities.
July 27, 2016
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