A Record of Uranium-Series Transport in Fractured, Unsaturated Tuff at Nopal I, Sierra Peña Blanca, Chihuahua, Mexico
Abstract:In this study we utilize U-series disequilibria measurements to investigate mineral fluid interactions and the role fractures play in the geochemical evolution of an analogue for a high level nuclear waste repository, the Nopal I uranium ore deposit. Samples of fracture-fill materials have been collected from a vertical drill core and surface fractures. High uranium concentrations in these materials (12-7700 ppm) indicate U mobility and transport from the deposit in the past. U concentrations generally decrease with horizontal distance away from the ore deposit but show no trend with depth.
Isotopic activity ratios indicate a complicated geochemical evolution in terms of the timing and extent of actinide mobility, possibly due to changing environmental (redox) conditions over the history of the deposit. 234U/238U activity ratios are generally distinct from secular equilibrium and indicate some degree of open system U behavior during the past 1.2 Ma. However, calculated closed system 238U-234U-230Th model ages are generally >313 ka and >183 ka for the surface fracture and drill core samples respectively, suggesting closed system behavior for U and Th over this most recent time period. Whole rock isochrons drawn for the drill core samples show that at two of three depths fractures have remained closed with respect to U and Th mobility for >200 ka. However, open system behavior for U in the last 350 ka is suggested at 67 m depth. 231Pa/235U activity ratios within error of unity suggest closed system behavior for U and Pa for at least the past 185 ka. 226Ra/230Th activity ratios are typically <1 (0.7-1.2), suggesting recent (<8 ka) radium loss and mobility due to ongoing fluid flow in the fractures. Overall, the mainly closed system behavior of U-Th-Pa over the past ~200 ka provides one indicator of the geochemical immobility of these actinides over long time-scales for potential nuclear waste repositories sited in fractured, unsaturated tuff.