OFR 97-492: History of NURE HSSR Program

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National Geochemical Database—Reformatted Data from the National Uranium Resource Evaluation (NURE) Hydrogeochemical and Stream Sediment Reconnaissance (HSSR) Program

By Steven M. Smith
Version 1.40 (2006)

History of the National Uranium Resource Evaluation Hydrogeochemical and Stream Sediment Reconnaissance Program

The National Uranium Resource Evaluation (NURE) program was initiated by the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) in 1973 with a primary goal of identifying uranium resources in the United States. When the AEC was abolished by act of Congress (Oct. 11, 1974), the NURE program was transferred to the newly created Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA). On Aug. 4, 1977, Congress terminated ERDA and all functions - including the NURE program - were transferred to the new Cabinet-level Department of Energy (DOE).

The Hydrogeochemical and Stream Sediment Reconnaissance (HSSR) program (initiated in 1975) was one of nine components of NURE. Planned systematic sampling of the entire United States began in 1976 under the responsibility of four DOE national laboratories: Lawrence Livermore Laboratory (LLL), Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory (LASL), Oak Ridge Gaseous Diffusion Plant (ORGDP), and Savannah River Laboratory (SRL). Each DOE laboratory developed its own sample collection, analytical, and data management methodologies and hired contractors to do much of the actual work.

In 1977, the entire NURE program changed from a study area basis (State, County, or geomorphic provinces) to a 1° x 2° quadrangle basis. Many of the early study areas were not coincident with quadrangle boundaries and so additional sampling was done later to complete the quadrangle studies. Some quadrangles were never completed. Originally, all samples were only analyzed for uranium. Analyses for additional elements, other than uranium, were also authorized in 1977 and many - but not all - early samples were reanalyzed.

The NURE program effectively ended about 1983-84 when funding disappeared. Out of a total of 625 quadrangles that cover the entire lower 48 States and Alaska, only 307 quadrangles were completely sampled and another 86 quadrangles were partially sampled.

DOE Laboratories and Other Contributing Entities

Lawrence Livermore Laboratory (LLL), California was assigned 7 western States and sampled about 38,000 sites in Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington. Many sample analyses had not been reported when LLL participation ended in 1979; about 30,000 samples were analyzed but only 13,000 reported. Additional samples were placed in storage and responsibility for unsampled quadrangles and analyzing the remaining samples was given to Savannah River Laboratory (SRL). SRL reported analyses on LLL samples from only four quadrangles. Reportedly, 32 additional quadrangles were sampled, perhaps even analyzed, but never published.

Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory (LASL), New Mexico, was assigned the Rocky Mountain States (Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, and Wyoming, and parts of Arizona, Idaho, Texas, and Utah) and Alaska. All sediment samples collected were initially analyzed by LASL; water and some sediment samples were also analyzed by Oak Ridge Gaseous Diffusion Plant (ORGDP). When LASL funding ended, LASL had a significant number of analyses completed but unreported. Bendix Field Engineering Corporation (Bendix) was authorized by the Department of Energy to produce reports based on LASL data tapes. More than 100 of these reports were issued only on microfiche. In addition, ORGDP issued 98 reports on LASL samples which they had analyzed.

Savannah River Laboratory (SRL), South Carolina, was assigned 25 States in the eastern United States and in 1979 assumed responsibility for portions of the seven western States originally given to LLL. SRL used different field note sheets and coding schemes for samples collected in the western U.S. (LLL original assignment). These formats are distinguished within the database and the On-Line Manual for USGS-Reformatted NURE HSSR Data Files as SRL-E (eastern region) and SRL-W (western region). SRL collected about 400,000 water and sediment samples but only analyzed part of the samples they collected. Some were also sent to a subcontractor for supplemental multielement analyses. At the end of SRL's participation in NURE, unanalyzed water and sediment samples were sent to ORGDP for analysis. Because 3 different laboratories were involved, SRL samples were often analyzed as many as three different times and reported in three different original data files. Just as often, a sample was reported only once without any chemical analysis data at all. Subcontractors performed a substantial amount of SRL's work including the preparation of reports. Thirty rough drafts of reports were given to Bendix for editing and issuance after SRL's participation ended.

Oak Ridge Gaseous Diffusion Plant (ORGDP), Tennessee, was assigned the central United States. Initial reconnaissance sampling was conducted in quadrangles with geologically favorable areas for uranium. Other quadrangles were sampled after the completion of the most favorable areas. Several quadrangles in the central U.S. were never sampled by the time that funding ended. ORGDP collected about 79,000 samples and analyzed about 231,000. ORGDP was also the central archive for all NURE HSSR samples, maps, and data forms.

Bendix Field Engineering Corporation, Grand Junction, Colorado, was responsible for maintaining the database for all four laboratories. Bendix was the repository that received, logged, and stored all data tapes sent by each lab (including tapes originally sent to ORGDP). Near the end of the NURE program, Bendix generated many of the data release reports and some of the quadrangle assessment reports. All of the published NURE reports were also sent to Bendix for distribution. Each report was assigned a unique Bendix GJBX report number. All NURE reports were distributed and indexed based upon these GJBX report numbers.

As individual quadrangle studies were nearing completion, the U.S. Department of Energy contracted with various entities to produce a summary NURE report for that quadrangle. Bendix Field Engineering Corporation, the U.S. Geological Survey, various State Geological Surveys, various Universities, and several independent subcontractors produced summary reports to identify and evaluate areas and geologic formations that are favorable for the occurrence of uranium deposits of specific minimum size and grade. For most quadrangles, additional field work was done to catalog known uranium occurrences and to collect additional geological, geochemical, and geophysical data needed to complete the summary. Most of these reports were released through the DOE Grand Junction Area Office, Colorado in the PGJ/F or GJQ report series. The additional geochemical data collected for these summaries are only available as microfiche appendices accompanying the report.

NURE HSSR database

By the time the NURE program had ended, the HSSR data consisted of 894 separate data files stored with 47 different formats. The University of Oklahoma's Information Systems Programs of the Energy Resources Institute (ISP) was contracted by the Department of Energy to enhance the accessibility and usefulness of the NURE HSSR data. ISP created a single standard-format master file to replace 894 original files. ISP converted only 817 of the 894 original files before their funding ended.


The sample archive was transferred from ORGDP to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in 1985. The archive reportedly contained about 380,000 original sediment samples from all four laboratories, about 250,000 replicates, splits, size fractions or other samples and approximately 500,000 resin samples of waters collected by SRL. The data tapes, original field maps, and field notes also became the property of the USGS.

The ISP-reformatted NURE data files have been released by the USGS on CD-ROM (Lower 48 States; Hoffman and Buttleman, 1994: Alaska; Hoffman and Buttleman, 1996). For more information on the history of NURE HSSR database and the rationale for the USGS-Reformatted NURE data files, see Why a new NURE HSSR data format?

Selected Bibliography of NURE HSSR Publications

(Note: Some of these NURE reports can now be downloaded as Portable Document Format files from this web site on the Selected Publications from the NURE HSSR Program page

Why a new NURE HSSR data format?
On-Line Manual for USGS-Reformatted NURE HSSR Data Files
Frequently Asked Questions Concerning NURE HSSR Data
Selected Publications from the NURE HSSR Program
Home Page: USGS National Geochemical Database - NURE HSSR data

Page written by Steven M. Smith (smsmith@usgs.gov)
Version 1.00: September 11, 1998
Version 1.10: July 29, 1999
Version 1.20: August 07, 2000
Version 1.30: September 11, 2001
Version 1.41: February 23, 2006

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