By Sarah Watson
Media General News Service
Published: April 18, 2009
A Virginia Tech geologist recently was awarded a $60,000 grant to study the Coles Hill uranium deposit in Pittsylvania County near Chatham.
The grant, a mineral research grant from the U.S. Geological Survey, is the first one from the federal government to study this particular deposit and will be for “a very focused study to determine the age of the uranium mineralization,” Robert Bodnar, a geochemistry professor at Tech, said.
Uranium and other ore deposits are formed over millions of years as water moves through tiny fractures and collects miniscule amounts of ore, which are then deposited in another location, Bodnar said.
By determining the specific age of the uranium ore at Coles Hill, officials will better understand how it was formed and, perhaps, how to find other similar deposits in the region, Bodnar said.
That will be accomplished by taking rock samples to a U.S. Geological Survey lab in Northern Virginia, where scientists will measure radioactive decay to determine the age.
The uranium is geologically younger than the surrounding rock and, he said, “the question is how much younger. They can be 1,000 years younger, a million years younger or 200 million years younger.”
Bodnar, who is one of a handful of University Distinguished Professors at Tech, also is working on other studies of the Coles Hill deposit, which is said to be one of the largest untapped uranium reserves in the U.S. with an estimated $10 billion worth of ore laying beneath a cattle pasture. Much of his research throughout his career has centered on how mineral and ore deposits form so similar deposits can be found, he said.
Bodnar said he has been working on the Coles Hill deposit for a little more than a year. One of the studies, he said, is focusing on the hydrology of the deposit, or how groundwater moves throughout the tiny fractures in the bedrock and ore.
“Those are questions that are critical to trying to understand what might happen if and when that deposit is mined,” Bodnar said.