Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Uranium: Energy Source, Technology Target

Uranium: Energy Source, Technology Target

What do you picture when you think about uranium mining? Virginia Uranium, Inc. pictures extraction activities in southside Virginia’s central Pittsylvania County, almost centrally located east-to-west along the Commonwealth’s border with North Carolina. According to the company, the Coles Hill ore deposit, covering 200 acres and up to 1500 feet deep, is the largest undeveloped uranium deposit in the United States and the seventh largest in the world. Containing approximately 119 million pounds of uranium oxide, the deposit is estimated to be worth more than $7 billion.
Naturally, there have been numerous studies, and the environmental activist community has opposed development of these resources. A state ban on uranium mining was enacted in 1982 and remains in place. The Southern Environmental Law Center, one of the leading opposition groups, states that “There is no precedent for large-scale uranium mining in the East, where the population density and a wet climate increase the chance of radiation contaminating streams and groundwater and exposure to humans.”
As with other actual and perceived environmental problems, clean technology can be brought to the U-mining table.
Leland A. Huffman and Lawrence J. Reimann, both of Glenrock, WY, did this with their November 13, 2007 patent (7,294,271) for a “Process for restoration of ground water used in in-situ uranium mining.” Assigned to Power Resources, Inc. (Lakewood, CO), the invention is classified by the US Patent & Trademark Office as 210/610, making it in their consideration a liquid purification or separation technology using treatment by living organisms which includes adding ancillary growth medium for the  microorganisms.
Their Claim 1:
1. A process for restoration of ground water in a subsurface mineralized sandstone formation using a nutrient source, the process is used in conjunction with in-situ uranium mining, the process comprising:
pumping contaminated ground water from the mineralized sandstone formation using a production well to a ground surface;
introducing a nutrient source into the ground water for stimulating the indigenous bacteria in the mineralized sandstone formation;
pumping the ground water with nutrient source back into the ground using an injection well where the ground water is reintroduced into the sandstone formation;
and precipitating less soluble metal complexes from the ground water to the sandstone formation thereby reducing an overall metal content in the ground water.”
Objects of the Huffman and Reimann invention include:
  • providing biological restoration of ground water in a sandstone formation using a nutrient source. The process is used in conjunction with mining uranium using in-situ pump and treat technology. The restoration of the ground water is designed to meet federal and state regulations. 
  • re-circulating ground water underground through a mined-out mineralized sandstone formation for greater contact in the geological formation. This feature helps ensures a more complete clean up of the ground water left in the sandstone formation. 
  • using indigenous bacteria as a more efficient and less costly bioreactor rather than cultivating foreign bacteria. Therefore, there is no reliance on the addition of extra chemicals to the ground water, since the metals react directly with the indigenous bacteria as electron acceptors. 
  • a biological ground water restoration process that not only precipitates out uranium but other metal oxides, metal sulfides and other minerals in the sandstone formation.
The original classification places this invention in the patentECO Water Index, but its primary use in uranium mining crosses over to the Extraction & Harvesting Index. Yet another example of free market innovation that can prevent, reduce, or remediate environmental impacts from resource extraction.

Update August 29th, 2012:

Here, courtesy of WTOP.COM and the Associated Press, is an update on the status of activities related to Virginia Uranium, Inc. and efforts to life the ban on uranium mining in Virginia

Virginia's Uranium Working Group

News from a group favoring keeping the ban -- KeepTheBan.org

The Virginia Beach Mining Impact Study