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Uranium mill tailings contain radioactive materials, notably radium-226, and heavy metals (e.g., manganese and molybdenum) which can leach into groundwater. have disproportionately affected indigenous populations around the globe.
Production of uranium dioxide or metal requires chemical processing of yellowcake. To enrich uranium, it must first be put in the chemical form uranium hexafluoride (UF).
As a result, the health and environmental risks of blending are similar to those for uranium conversion and enrichment. So far, the NRC has been using guidelines developed by its staff in 1981 to oversee decommissioning efforts. regulations, however, cover a period of 1,000 years for mill tailings and at most 500 years for “low-level” radioactive waste.
In 1983 the federal government set standards for controlling pollution from active and abandoned mill tailings piles resulting from yellowcake production. The Future Uranium and associated decay products thorium-230 and radium-226 will remain hazardous for thousands of years. This means that future generations–far beyond those promised protection by these regulations–will likely face significant risks from uranium mining, milling, and processing activities.
Uranium-238 decays by alpha emission into thorium-234, which itself decays by beta emission to protactinium-234, which decays by beta emission to uranium-234, and so on.
The various decay products, (sometimes referred to as “progeny” or “daughters”) form a series starting at uranium-238.
In the past decade, alternative techniques such in-situ leach mining, in which solutions are injected into underground deposits to dissolve uranium, have become more widely used. Conventional mining techniques generate a substantial quantity of mill tailings waste during the milling phase, because the usable portion is generally less than one percent of the ore.