Modeling Uranium Transport in Koongarra, Australia: The Effect of a Moving Weathering Zone

A. Leijnse, H. van de Weerd, S.M. Hassanizadeh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Natural analogues are an important source of long-term data and may be viewed as naturally occurring experiments that often include processes, phenomena, and scenarios that are important to nuclear waste disposal safety assessment studies. The Koongarra uranium deposit in the Alligator Rivers region of Australia is one of the best-studied natural analogue sites. The deposit has been subjected to chemical weathering over several million years, during which many climatological, hydrological, and geological changes have taken place, resulting in the mobilization and spreading of uranium. Secondary uranium mineralization and dispersed uranium are present from the surface down to the base of the weathering zone, some 25 m deep. In this work, a simple uranium transport model is presented and sensitivity analyses are conducted for key model parameters. Analyses of field and laboratory data show that three layers can be distinguished in the Koongarra area: (1) a top layer that is fully weathered, (2) an intermediate layer that is partially weathered (the weathering zone), and (3) a lower layer that is unweathered. The weathering zone has been moving downward as the weathering process proceeds. Groundwater velocities are found to be largest in the weathering zone. Transport of uranium is believed to take place primarily in this zone. It appears that changes in the direction of groundwater flow have not had a significant effect on the uranium dispersion pattern. The solid-phase uranium data show that the uranium concentration does not significantly change with depth within the fully weathered zone. This implies that uranium transport has stopped in these layers. A two-dimensional vertically integrated model for transport of uranium in the weathering zone has been developed. Simulations with a velocity field constant in time and space have been carried out, taking into account the downward movement of this zone and the dissolution of uranium in the orebody. The latter has been modelled by a nonequilibrium relationship. In these simulations, pseudo-steady state uranium distributions are computed. The main conclusion drawn from this study is that the movement of the weathering zone and the nonequilibrium dissolution of uranium in the orebody play an important role in the transport of uranium. Despite the fact that the model is a gross simplification of what has actually happened in the past two million years, a reasonable fit of calculated and observed uranium distributions was obtained with acceptable values for the model parameters.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-29
JournalMathematical Geology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2001

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