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Design Improvements and ALARA at U.S. Uranium In Situ Recovery Facilities

[+] Author Affiliations
S. H. Brown

SENES Consultants Ltd., Englewood, CO

Paper No. ICEM2009-16415, pp. 649-664; 16 pages
doi:10.1115/ICEM2009-16415
From:
  • ASME 2009 12th International Conference on Environmental Remediation and Radioactive Waste Management
  • ASME 2009 12th International Conference on Environmental Remediation and Radioactive Waste Management, Volume 2
  • Liverpool, UK, October 11–15, 2009
  • Conference Sponsors: Nuclear Engineering Division and Environmental Engineering Division
  • ISBN: 978-0-7918-4408-3 | eISBN: 978-0-7918-3865-X
  • Copyright © 2009 by ASME

abstract

In the last few years, there has been a significant increase in the demand for Uranium as historical inventories have been consumed and new reactor orders are being placed. Numerous mineralized properties around the world are being evaluated for Uranium recovery and new mining / milling projects are being evaluated and developed. Ore bodies which are considered uneconomical to mine by conventional methods such as tunneling or open pits, can be candidates for non-conventional recovery techniques, involving considerably less capital expenditure. Technologies such as Uranium In Situ Leaching / In Situ Recovery (ISL / ISR - also refered to as “solution mining”), have enabled commercial scale mining and milling of relatively small ore pockets of lower grade, and are expected to make a significant contribution to overall world wide uranium supplies over the next ten years. Commercial size solution mining production facilities have operated in the US since the mid 1970’s. However, current designs are expected to result in less radiological wastes and emissions relative to these “first” generation plants (which were designed, constructed and operated through the 1980s). These early designs typically used alkaline leach chemistries in situ including use of ammonium carbonate which resulted in groundwater restoration challenges, open to air recovery vessels and high temperature calcining systems for final product drying vs the “zero emmisions” vaccum dryers as typically used today. Improved containment, automation and instrumentation control and use of vacuum dryers in the design of current generation plants are expected to reduce production of secondary waste byproduct material, reduce Radon emisions and reduce potential for employee exposure to uranium concentrate aerosols at the back end of the milling process. In Situ Recovery in the U.S. typically involves the circulation of groundwater, fortified with oxidizing (gaseous oxygen e.g) and complexing agents (carbon dioxide, e.g) into an ore body, solubilizing the uranium in situ, and then pumping the solutions to the surface where they are fed to a processing plant (mill). Processing involves ion exchange and may also include precipitation, drying or calcining and packaging operations depending on facility specifics. This paper presents an overview of the ISR process and the health physics monitoring programs developed at a number of commercial scale ISL / ISR Uranium recovery and production facillities as a result of the radiological character of these processes. Although many radiological aspects of the process are similar to that of conventional mills, conventional-type tailings as such are not generated. However, liquid and solid byproduct materials may be generated and impounded. The quantity and radiological character of these by products are related to facility specifics. Some special monitoring considerations are presented which are required due to the manner in which radon gas is evolved in the process and the unique aspects of controlling solution flow patterns underground. The radiological character of these procesess are described using empirical data collected from many operating facilities. Additionally, the major aspects of the health physics and radiation protection programs that were developed at these first generation facilities are discussed and contrasted to circumstances of the current generation and state of the art of uranium ISR technologies and facilities.

Copyright © 2009 by ASME

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