Pu(V) transport through Savannah River Site soils - an evaluation of a conceptual model of surface-mediated reduction to Pu(IV).
Over the last fifteen years the Savannah River Site (SRS) in South Carolina, USA, was selected as the site of three new plutonium facilities: the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility, Pit Disassembly and Conversion Facility, and the Pu Immobilization Plant. In order to assess the potential human and environmental risk associated with these recent initiatives, improved understanding of the fate and transport of Pu in the SRS subsurface environment is necessary. The hypothesis of this study was that the more mobile forms of Pu, Pu(V) and Pu(VI), would be reduced to the less mobile Pu(III/IV) oxidation states under ambient SRS subsurface conditions. Laboratory-scale dynamic flow experiments (i.e., column studies) indicated that Pu(V) was very mobile in SRS sediments. At higher pH values the mobility of Pu decreased and the fraction of Pu that became irreversibly sorbed to the sediment increased, albeit, only slightly. Conversely, these column experiments showed that Pu(IV) was essentially immobile and was largely irreversibly sorbed to the sediment. More than 100 batch sorption experiments were also conducted with four end-member sediments, i.e., sediments that include the chemical, textural, and mineralogical properties likely to exist in the SRS. These tests were conducted as a function of initial Pu oxidation state, pH, and contact time and consistently demonstrated that although Pu(V) sorbed initially quite weakly to sediments, it slowly, over the course of <33 days, sorbed very strongly to sediments, to approximately the same degree as Pu(IV). This is consistent with our hypothesis that Pu(V) is reduced to the more strongly sorbing form of Pu, Pu(IV). These studies provide important experimental support for a conceptual geochemical model for dissolved Pu in a highly weathered subsurface environment. That is that, irrespective of the initial oxidation state of the dissolved Pu introduced into a SRS sediment system, Pu(IV) controls the environmental transport within a couple weeks and Pu strongly binds to the sediment, limiting its mobility.