Radioactive acidic liquid waste is a common byproduct of uranium (U) and plutonium (Pu) enrichment and recycling processes whose accidental and planned release has led to a significant input of U into soils and sediments across the world, including at the U.S. DOE's Hanford site (WA, USA). Because of the particularly hazardous nature of U, it is important to predict its speciation when introduced into soils and sediments by acidic waste fluids. Of fundamental importance are the coupled effects of acid-driven mineral transformation and reactive transport on U speciation. To evaluate the effect of waste-fluid residence time and co-associated dissolved phosphate concentrations on U speciation in impacted soils and sediments, uncontaminated surface materials (from the Hanford Site) were reacted with U-containing synthetic acidic waste fluids (pH 2) amended with dissolved phosphate concentrations in both batch (no flow) and flow-through column systems for 7–365 days. By comparing dissolved U behavior and solid phase speciation as a function of flow regimen, we found that the availability of proton-promoted dissolution products (such as Si) to sequester U into uranyl silicates was dependent on waste fluid-sediment contact time as uranyl silicates were not detected in short contact time flow-through systems but were detected in no-flow, long contact time, reactors. Moreover, the dominance of uranyl phosphate as neoprecipitate U scavenger (principally in the form of meta-ankoleite) in phosphate amended systems confirmed the importance of phosphate amendments for an efficient sequestration of U in the soils and sediments. Overall, our experiments suggest that the formation of uranyl silicates in soils impacted by acidic waste fluids is likely to be limited unless reaction products are allowed to accumulate in soil pores, highlighting the importance of investigating soil U speciation in flow-through, transport-driven systems as opposed to no-flow, batch systems. This study provides insights into uranium speciation and its potential changes under acidic conditions for better prediction of risks and subsequent development of efficient remediation strategies.
- Hanford site
- Thermodynamic modeling
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Environmental Chemistry
- Waste Management and Disposal
- Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis