The 234U/238U alpha activity ratio (AR) was determined in 47 samples of variably uraniferous groundwater from the vicinity of a uranium mill near Canon City, Colorado. The results illustrate that uranium isotopes can be used to determine the distribution of uranium contamination in groundwater and to indicate processes such as mixing and chemical precipitation that affect uranium concentrations. Highly to moderately contaminated groundwater samples collected from the mill site and land immediately downgradient from the mill site contain more than 100 ??g/l of dissolved uranium and typically have AR values in the narrow range of 1.0-1.06. Other samples from the shallow alluvial aquifer farther downgradient from the mill contain 10-100 ??g/1 uranium and plot along a broad trend of increasing AR (1.06-1.46) with decreasing uranium concentration. The results are consistent with mixing of liquid mill waste (AR ??? 1.0) with alluvial groundwater of small, but variable, uranium concentrations and AR of 1.31.5. In the alluvial aquifer, the spatial distribution of wells with AR values less than 1.3 is consistent with previous estimates of the probable distribution of contamination, based on water chemistry and hydrology. Wells more distant from the area of probable contamination have AR values that are consistently greater than 1.3 and are indicative of little or no contamination. The methodology of this study can be extended usefully to similar sites of uranium mining, milling, or processing provided that local geohydrologic settings promote uranium mobility and that introduced uranium contamination is isotopically distinct from that of local groundwater.
Additional publication details
Use of 234U and 238U isotopes to evaluate contamination of near-surface groundwater with uranium-mill effluent: A case study in south-central Colorado, U.S.A.