A bacteria found naturally in the soil around uranium deposits may become a powerful tool in cleaning up old mine sites. A group of University of Wyoming scientists are collaborating with Cameco, a uranium mining company in Converse County. They’re experimenting with the bacteria’s ability to convert soluble uranium that can contaminate groundwater into less harmful solid form.
Microbiologist John Willford says the research is a win-win for everybody. “We feel confident in those that what we’re seeing is reduction in uranium largely due to microbial activity,” he says. “This should give improved clean up, it should be at reduced cost and that’s a benefit to the industry, to us as residents of the state and the environment in general.”
If the research proves viable in the field, it would greatly reduce the cost of clean-up, since current methods require flushing mines with massive amounts of ground water. The live bacteria, on the other hand, would do best in recycled groundwater.
Field trials with the bacteria at the Smith Ranch-Highland mine will start later this month with results expected in about a year.