Environment News Service

GEOLOGISTS LEARNING URANIUM CONTAINMENT FROM NATURE

BLACKSBURG, Virginia, March 13, 2001 (ENS) - One of the richest uranium deposits in the U.S. lies beneath Coles Hill in rural Virginia - forming a perfect natural laboratory for studying radioactive waste containment.

"You would expect ground water in this type of natural system to have carried the uranium away from the site into the surrounding environment, but we don't see that," said Virginia Tech Ph.D. student Jim Jerden. "We think we can learn something from this site that can be applied to existing contaminated sites and nuclear waste repositories."

As geologists, Jerden and his advisor, A. K. Sinha, professor of geological sciences, are looking at the natural system that contains the Coles Hill uranium deposit as a unique geologic analog for uranium contaminated sites and nuclear waste repositories.

"Nature may present a model for the scientifically sound management of nuclear wastes and contaminated sites," said Jerden. "We have discovered that the abundance of phosphorous and its interaction with uranium is likely the cause for the lack of migration."

Jerden presented some of his research from Coles Hill this morning at the 36th annual meeting of the Northeastern Section of the Geological Society of America (GSA) in Burlington, Vermont.

Scientists from the University of Georgia's Savannah River Ecology Laboratory have already been experimenting with phosphorous and uranium in the laboratory.

"The goal of these experiments was to develop new cost effective technologies that can be applied for remediation of uranium contaminated sites," explained Jerden. "So they were very interested when we told them we were researching a natural system in which uranium and phosphorus are combining to naturally limit uranium transport."

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