A new twist on uranium’s origin story, by CSU scientists

Posted: June 2nd, 2017

Scientists sampled a 650-foot deep sediment core from roll-front uranium deposits at an unmined site at Wyoming’s Smith Ranch Highlands. By characterizing the mineralogical and microbial composition of the sample, they discovered a new form of biologically produced uranium.

By Anne Ju Manning

Uranium, the radioactive element that fuels nuclear power plants and occurs naturally in the Earth’s crust, is typically mined from large sandstone deposits deep underground. The uranium in these deposits, which are called roll fronts, has long been thought to form over millions of years via chemical reactions of sulfur and other non-biological compounds.

This widely accepted textbook geology is being challenged by Colorado State University biogeochemists in a new study published June 1 in Nature CommunicationsThomas Borch, professor of soil and crop sciences with joint appointments in chemistry and civil and environmental engineering, and Amrita Bhattacharyya, a former postdoctoral researcher in Borch’s lab, offer evidence for a new origin story for the uranium trapped underground in roll fronts. Bhattacharyya is the paper’s first author, and is now a research fellow at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

“You know you might have a big story when you discover something that will result in people having to rewrite textbooks,” Borch said. “Our results may introduce a paradigm shift in the way we think about ore genesis and mining – from implications for human health, to restoration practices, to how mining companies calculate how much they can earn from a given site.”

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