Molybdenum Speciation in Uranium Mine Tailings Using X-Ray Absorption Spectroscopy

Uranium (U) mill tailings in northern Saskatchewan, Canada, contain elevated concentrations of molybdenum (Mo). The potential for long-term (>10 000 years) mobilization of Mo from the tailings management facilities to regional groundwater systems is an environmental concern. To assist in characterizing long-term stability, X-ray absorption spectroscopy was used to define the chemical (redox and molecular) speciation of Mo in tailings samples from the Deilmann Tailings Management Facility (DTMF) at the Key Lake operations of Cameco Corporation. Comparison of Mo K near-edge X-ray absorption spectra of tailings samples and reference compounds of known oxidation states indicates Mo exists mainly as molybdate (+6 oxidation state). Principal component analysis of tailings samples spectra followed by linear combination fitting using spectra of reference compounds indicates that various proportions of NiMoO4 and CaMoO4 complexes, as well as molybdate adsorbed onto ferrihydrite, are the Mo species present in the U mine tailings. Tailings samples with low Fe/Mo (<708) and high Ni/Mo (>113) molar ratios are dominated by NiMoO4, whereas those with high Fe/Mo (>708) and low Ni/Mo (<113) molar ratios are dominated by molybdate adsorbed onto ferrihydrite. This suggests that the speciation of Mo in the tailings is dependent in part on the chemistry of the original ore.