Multiscale Speciation of U and Pu at Chernobyl, Hanford, Los Alamos, McGuire AFB, Mayak, and Rocky Flats

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Environmental Science & Technology





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The speciation of U and Pu in soil and concrete from Rocky Flats and in particles from soils from Chernobyl, Hanford, Los Alamos, and McGuire Air Force Base and bottom sediments from Mayak was determined by a combination of X-ray absorption fine structure (XAFS) spectroscopy and X-ray fluorescence (XRF) element maps. These experiments identify four types of speciation that sometimes may and other times do not exhibit an association with the source terms and histories of these samples: relatively well ordered PuO2+x and UO2+x that had equilibrated with O2 and H2O under both ambient conditions and in fires or explosions; instances of small, isolated particles of U as UO2+x, U3O8, and U(VI) species coexisting in close proximity after decades in the environment; alteration phases of uranyl with other elements including ones that would not have come from soils; and mononuclear Pu–O species and novel PuO2+x-type compounds incorporating additional elements that may have occurred because the Pu was exposed to extreme chemical conditions such as acidic solutions released directly into soil or concrete. Our results therefore directly demonstrate instances of novel complexity in the Å and μm-scale chemical speciation and reactivity of U and Pu in their initial formation and after environmental exposure as well as occasions of unexpected behavior in the reaction pathways over short geological but significant sociological times. They also show that incorporating the actual disposal and site conditions and resultant novel materials such as those reported here may be necessary to develop the most accurate predictive models for Pu and U in the environment.



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