A group of researchers from Pacific Northwest, Lawrence Berkeley and Sandia national laboratories have discovered a mineral that can absorb uranium from ground water. The researchers discovered the mineral, which is known as calcium apatite, at a former uranium mill in Colorado. The sponge-like mineral reduced the levels of uranium in groundwater significantly.
The project’s lead Mark Rigali, a geochemist from Sandia, stated that apatite technology was also found to decrease the concentration of molybdenum, vanadium and uranium in the groundwater at Colorado’s Rifle mine site. Additionally, it ensures that the uranium amounts remain below the target concentration set by the Department of Energy.
The contaminated mill site is found roughly 180 miles west of Denver. Since the early 2000s, the Office of Legacy Management in the Department of Energy has utilized the site in testing various uranium-remediation technologies.
While vanadium and molybdenum are toxic in high concentrations and beneficial at low levels, uranium in all its forms is known to be toxic when ingested and is also radioactive. Calcium apatite is commonly utilized in fertilizers and is also a prominent component of teeth and bones. The researchers made the ground material into a sponge by introducing sodium phosphate and calcium citrate, which are nontoxic chemicals, into a well that has been created to inject solutions underground.
After the solution has been introduced into the ground, bacteria in the soil consumed the calcium citrate and excreted calcium, which then reacted with sodium phosphate, leading to the formation of calcium apatite. This is what coats soil and sand particles underground to form the apatite sponge. This sponge, which can hold contaminants for millennia, is what captures uranium.
Lawrence Berkeley’s environmental remediation and water resources program lead Ken Williams notes that uranium remediation using the apatite-based approach is the most effective approach that doesn’t have any considerable negative side effects.
Remediation refers to the measures carried out to decrease radiation exposure from existing contamination. This remediation technology was designed by Robert Moore, a former chemical engineer in Sandia. It has been utilized at the Hanford Site in Washington State to prevent strontium-90 from seeping into the Columbia River. Strontium is a radioactive isotope.
Rigali reveals that apatite technology may also be used in other locations that are also contaminated. He explains that the apatite family of minerals is huge, noting that each mineral has different capabilities for storing and capturing contaminants. Rigali adds that an apatite’s structure can be altered to absorb specific contaminants.
For instance, copper apatite is suited in capturing arsenic.
With companies such as Energy Fuels Inc. (NYSE American: UUUU) (TSX: EFR) expressing interest in helping the U.S. federal government to clean up legacy mine sites, the more options for soaking up the contamination, the better.
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