Physical dispersion of radioactive mine waste at the rehabilitated Radium Hill uranium mine site, South Australia

Lottermoser, B.G., and Ashley, P.M. (2006) Physical dispersion of radioactive mine waste at the rehabilitated Radium Hill uranium mine site, South Australia. Australian Journal of Earth Sciences, 53 (3). pp. 485-499.

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Abstract

The Radium Hill uranium deposit, in semi-arid eastern South Australia, was discovered in 1906 and mined for radium between 1906 and 1931 and for uranium between 1954 and 1961 (production of 969 300 t of davidite ore averaging 0.12% U3O8). Rehabilitation was limited to removal of mine facilities, sealing of underground workings and capping of selected waste repositories. In 2002, gamma-ray data and samples of tailings, uncrushed and crushed waste rock, stream sediment, topsoil and vegetation were collected to assist in examination of the current environmental status of the mine site. The data indicate that capping of tailings storage facilities did not ensure the long-term containment of the low-level radioactive wastes due to the erosion of sides of the impoundments. Moreover, wind erosion of waste fines (phyllosilicates, ore minerals) from various, physically unstable waste repositories has caused increasing radiochemical (from a background dose of 35-70 nSv/hr to max. 0.94 Sv/hr) and geochemical (Ce, Cr, La, Lu, Rb, Sc, Th, U, V, Y, Yb) impacts on local soils. Plants (saltbush, pepper tree) growing on waste dumps display evidence of biological uptake of lithophile elements, with values being up to 1-2 orders of magnitude above values for plants of the same species at background sites. However, radiation doses associated with the mine and processing site average 0.67 Sv/hr; hence, visitors to the Radium Hill site will not be exposed to excessive radiation levels. Although rehabilitation procedures have been partly successful in reducing dispersion of U and related elements into the surrounding environment, it is apparent that 20 years after rehabilitation, there is significant physical and limited chemical mobility, including transfer into plants. Additional capping and landform design of the crushed waste and tailings repositories are required in order to minimise erosion and impacts on surrounding soils and sediments.

Item ID: 1598
Item Type: Article (Refereed Research - C1)
Keywords: uranium, tailings, contaminants, erosion, Radium Hill, South Australia
ISSN: 1440-0952
Date Deposited: 20 Aug 2007
FoR Codes: 04 EARTH SCIENCES > 0402 Geochemistry > 040299 Geochemistry not elsewhere classified @ 100%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9612 Rehabilitation of Degraded Environments > 961205 Rehabilitation of Degraded Mining Environments @ 100%
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