In recent years in-situ leach mining has emerged as a new technology for the recovery of uranium from strata that cannot be mined economically by other means. Because the ore bodies lie within groundwater aquifers, a significant determinant in the process' viability is the requirement that such aquifers be protected from contamination. Since ammonia is one of the constituents of the leach solutions now being field tested, one environmental problem to be resolved is the removal of ammonia at the end of mining. A second related question is the fate of the ammonia that is not removed by the restoration procedure.
This paper considers the displacement and migration of ammonium cations in a flowing electrolyte with concomitant ion exchange. The ion exchange is an important feature since, during the solution mining phase, ammonium cations adsorb onto the mineral exchange sites and must be removed from these sites. A mathematical model is used to simulate this process, and the model is tested against the results of laboratory experiments. It is found that the simulations are adequate if an appropriate selection of parameters is made.
The model then is used to simulate restoration procedures and to determine the rate of migration of unrecovered ammonium in the groundwater. It is concluded that ammonium removal can be accomplished best using high concentrations of a cation that is exchanged selectively relative to ammonium cation.