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Long-Term Evolution of Uranium Mobility within Sulfated Mill Tailings in Arid Regions: A Reactive Transport Study

Abstract : Management of mill tailings is an important part of mining operations that aims at preventing environmental dispersion of contaminants of concern. To this end, geochemical models and reactive transport modeling provide a quantitative assessment of the mobility of the main contaminants. In arid regions with limited rainfall and intense evaporation, solutes transport may significantly differ from the usual gravity-driven vertical flow. In the uranium tailings of the Cominak mine (Niger), these evaporative processes resulted in the crystallization of gypsum, and to a lesser extent jarosite, and in the formation of surface levels of sulfated gypcrete, locally enriched in uranium. We present a fully coupled reactive transport modeling approach using HYTEC, encompassing evaporation, to quantitatively reproduce the complex sequence of observed coupled hydrogeochemical processes. The sulfated gypcrete formation, porosity evolution and solid uranium content were successfully reproduced at the surface and paleosurfaces of the tailing deposit. Simulations confirm that high solubility uranyl-sulfate phase may form at the atmospheric boundary where evaporation takes place, which would then be transformed into uranyl-phosphate phases after being watered or buried under fresh tailings. As these phases usually exhibit a lower solubility, this transition is beneficial for mine operators and tailings management.
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Contributor : Nicolas Seigneur Connect in order to contact the contributor
Submitted on : Thursday, October 28, 2021 - 4:28:53 PM
Last modification on : Friday, December 3, 2021 - 11:43:18 AM

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Nicolas Seigneur, Laurent de Windt, Adrien Déjeant, Vincent Lagneau, Michaël Descostes. Long-Term Evolution of Uranium Mobility within Sulfated Mill Tailings in Arid Regions: A Reactive Transport Study. Minerals, MDPI, 2021, 11 (11), pp.1201. ⟨10.3390/min11111201⟩. ⟨hal-03407802⟩

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