MAC: Mines and Communities

27.5 Million Funds Uranium Contamination Studies

Published by MAC on 2007-04-16

$27.5 Million Funds Uranium Contamination Studies

RICHLAND, Washington, (ENS)

16th April 2007

The Department of Energy has granted Pacific Northwest National Laboratory $27.5 million dollars over five years to investigate the movement of groundwater contaminated with uranium at sites in Washington and Colorado. The studies are intended to identify new approaches and strategies to help clean up the groundwater.

The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, PNNL, will lead the field studies at a uranium mill tailings site in Rifle, Colorado, and at the Hanford Nuclear Site in Richland, Washington, where some 60 percent of the nation's high-level nuclear waste is stored.

The Hanford study involves investigation of the groundwater and the subsurface soil and rock just above the groundwater - both of which are contaminated by uranium. The study area is adjacent to the Columbia River and located near the southern boundary of the Hanford Site, north of Richland.

PNNL Project Manager John Zachara says the field study at Hanford will help develop transport models that will be relevant to contaminant movement along the entire Columbia River corridor.

At the uranium mill tailings site in Colorado, PNNL geohydrologist Phil Long leads a diverse team of researchers examining the stimulation of subsurface microorganisms aimed at reducing and immobilizing uranium in the subsurface.

Researchers have found that bioremediation of uranium is possible, but optimal control and manipulation of the process is still unknown.

"We hope to understand the microbial factors and the associated geochemistry that is controlling uranium movement, so that DOE can confidently remediate the uranium plumes," Long said. "Our approach should lead to new knowledge that can then be used to develop effective flow and reactive transport models."

Participants in the field studies include the United States Geological Survey, Oregon State University, Purdue University, the University of Alabama, the University of California-Berkley, and DOE’s Pacific Northwest, Lawrence Berkley, Los Alamos and Idaho national laboratories.

Both the Hanford and Colorado studies are part of Energy Department’s Integrated Field-Scale Subsurface Research Challenge, a new program that commits multi-investigator teams to performing large, benchmark-type experiments on formidable field-scale science issues.


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