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Global team of scientists offers new approach to prospecting for uranium

November 22, 2017, 19:02 UTC+3 MOSCOW

Researchers put together a complex mathematical model on the migration of uranium dissolved in water in the upper part of the Earth’s crust

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© Evgeniy Yepanchintsev/TASS

MOSCOW, November 22. /TASS/. Researchers from the Tomsk Polytechnic University (TPU) together with colleagues from the UK and Norway put together a complex mathematical model on the migration of uranium dissolved in water in the upper part of the Earth’s crust. The results of this model might be used not only to prospect uranium deposits and forecast their location but also to create future uranium deposits. A coauthor of the study, assistant professor at TPU’s Department of Hydrogeology, Engineering Geology, and Land-Utilization Alexey Nikitenkov announced the development.

Uranium is a widespread element in the Earth’s crust, with water responsible for its redistribution. When water dissolves subsurface rocks, it transmits uranium contained there and concentrates it in the form of minerals. In this way, hydrogenic (formed by water) deposits are formed as a significant source of uranium, which is, in turn, the primary material for nuclear energy. Uranium is a toxic and radioactive metal. Therefore, the outcome of the study will not only help in prospecting deposits but also in establishing secure water supply systems from underground sources.

"The results that we have obtained in our work enable (us) to weigh the main factors responsible for the migration of uranium in natural water spots. These pieces of data will more than help us take a fresh look at prospecting rare element deposits. Our model represents a first step to the detailed description and, partially, to the control of the process how uranium deposits are formed," Nikitenkov stated.

The researchers led by Yekaterina Dutova, Professor at TPU’s Department of Hydrogeology, Engineering Geology, and Land-Utilization, created the mathematical model of interaction of water with subsurface rocks and determined how the migration of uranium is influenced by natural factors such as acidity levels, water mineralization, flow speed, and many other factors. The model’s results were tested with real samples from Norway and Siberia.

"In our models, we took into account how the composition of natural water had evolved during its contact with granite, the main uranium-containing subsurface rock. The concentration of uranium was chosen within the range from the average Earth value of 5 ppm (5 grams per 1 million grams) up to 500 ppm. Additionally, we varied other factors such as pH, redox potential, and the mineralization of a solution in quite large ranges. Similar ‘multidimensional’ mathematical models describing processes with uranium in such large territories as West Siberia or Norway have never been conducted before," Nikitenkov noted.

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