Uranium Research Program Funds First Projects

July 6, 2011

The In-Situ Recovery (ISR) of Uranium Research Program has reached another milestone: The first round of funding.

The program, enacted in 2009 by the Wyoming State Legislature and administered by the School of Energy Resources (SER) at the University of Wyoming, received concurrence last month from the Joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development Interim Committee to fund four projects to further develop ISR of uranium in the state.

Of its $1.6 million appropriation from the state, the program will award $826,849 for 2011.

"We were pleased with the response to our request for proposals for this new program," says SER Director Mark Northam. "The projects we funded all address important needs of Wyoming's ISR industry and we expect the program's success will quickly provide benefits."

The largest allocation, $399,400, with a $100,000 match from Cameco Resources, was awarded to Los Alamos National Laboratory to predict the degree of natural attenuation of uranium and other constituents of concern as groundwater migrates downgradient of an ISR operation. Project work will be done at Cameco Resources' Smith Ranch-Highland mine near Douglas, the largest uranium production facility in the United States.

A second approved project -- submitted by Kevin Chamberlain, a research professor in the UW Department of Geology and Geophysics -- will also be conducted at the Cameco site. Chamberlain received $100,000, with a $25,000 match from Cameco, to study restoration or uranium aquifers using bioremediation at the Smith Ranch-Highland site.

"We're committed to modern mining that focuses on safety and on protecting the environment," says Paul Goranson, president of Cameco Resources, one of the world's top uranium producers. "The School of Energy Resources at the University of Wyoming is an outstanding partner to work with in continuing to advance excellence in all aspects of uranium operations. Through funding provided by the legislature, Wyoming is demonstrating it is committed to strong, responsible economic growth that protects our natural resources."

Two other UW researchers also received funding for 2011:

  • Susan Swapp, a research scientist in the Department of Geology and Geophysics, was awarded $227,449 to use various analytical methods to identify and characterize uranium deposits and their sources. The university added $92,400 in matching funds.
  • Suzanne Clark, an assistant professor in the School of Pharmacy, was awarded $100,000 to investigate the use of cupric oxide nanoparticles to remove arsenic from production bleed water. UW and Colorado State University joined to add $25,000 in matching funds.

The ISR method of extracting uranium is the most widely used technique today in the U.S. The process, used primarily where uranium is deposited in sandstone, involves injecting a groundwater solution (fortified with oxygen and carbon dioxide) into the ore body through cased wells. The solution permeates the porous rock, dissolving the uranium from the ore, and is pumped to the surface through other cased wells.

The uranium-rich solution is then transferred to a water treatment facility where the uranium is removed from solution by adhering to ion exchange resin beads. The barren groundwater solution exiting the ion exchange system is refortified with oxygen and carbon dioxide and then sent back to the injection wells for reuse.

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