Published: March 29, 2011
By: Lauren Pagel, Cathy Carlson
From the fact sheet:
In the United States, in-situ leach (ISL) mining accounts for most uranium production.
ISL involves injecting chemicals, called "lixiviant" into an aquifer that contains uranium ore bodies. The chemicals used are typically sulfuric acid or ammonium carbonate.
Under natural conditions, these ore bodies are localized and the radiation and heavy metals associated with them remain confined in small portions of an aquifer. Because under natural conditions the toxic substances associated with uranium ore bodies are locally confined, their host aquifers can be -- and often are -- used as drinking water sources.
When lixiviant is injected into an aquifer, it creates a chemical reaction with the uranium, causing it to spread over large areas of an aquifer. The uranium plume is brought to the surface with a series of production wells and processed for shipment to enrichment facilities.
In the US the production life of a well field is roughly 1 to 3 years.
However, groundwater restoration efforts can last for decades.