Economic and environmental implications of leakage upon in situ uranium mining
Organization: Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration
Jan 1, 1988
A computer model was used to simulate the effect of leakage through confining beds on a hypothetical in situ leach operation in an aquifer with a thin mineralized section. The simulations were used to assess economic and potential environmental implications of leakage on an in situ leach operation. Four scenarios were modeled - three representing cases with different degrees of confinement, and the fourth representing a stratified ore zone under a low degree of confinement. The model simulated the travel path and travel time of lixiviant given the hydraulic conditions prescribed in each scenario. The results show that the travel path and travel times vary by about 10% for confinement ranging from nearly impermeable (essentially no leakage) to an extremely low level (thin confinement with a permeability about equal to that of the aquifer) for isotropic aquifer conditions. The aquifer thickness contacted by the lixiviant varied from 85% to 90%. Horizontally, 55% to 60% of the aquifer was contacted. The flow paths in the stratified aquifer were reduced in the vertical direction and expanded horizontally. Forty- five percent of the aquifer thickness was contacted vertically with 88% contacted horizontally. Break- through time for lixiviant traveling at mid-depth of the aquifer increased two times when the leakage was increased from nearly zero to a value representative of thin and highly permeable confinement. Leakage affects the economics of in situ mining by (1) increasing the time required to leach out the ore, and (2) increasing the thickness of the ore zone aquifer to be restored. The potential for environmental impacts appears to be minor. In all four simulations, the lixiviant did not contact the confining strata. Restoration would be limited to cleanup of the ore zone aquifer within the thickness contacted by lixiviant and within the radius of the lixiviant that traveled farthest away from the production cell.