Evidence for the remobilisation of transuranic elements in the terrestrial environment

A. S. Hursthouse, F. R. Livens

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15 Citations (Scopus)


The transuranium elements, Np, Pu and Am discharged from the BNFL fuel reprocessing plant at Sellafield have accumulated in the local environment. The processes responsible for their dispersal rely both on physical transportation and their chemical reactivity. The transuranics have a complex chemistry, with multiple oxidation states and a strongly polarising character. In the environment, the particle active III/IV and more mobile VNI oxidation state groups are important and govern their geochemical behaviour and subsequent dispersal.

Studies of the behaviour of the transuranics, particularly Pu, in the Irish Sea, have shown that the majority of the radionuclides in the liquid effluent discharged from Sellafield, quickly becomes associated with the marine sediments. Their dispersal and distribution in the environment is then governed primarily by the movement of particulate material and for some sites it has been suggested that sediment profiles preserve the historical record of discharges from the plant.

In tidally inundated soils, radionuclide levels are greatly enhanced. These soils are water-logged for long periods of the year, are strongly anoxic and accretion rate are very low. The distribution of Np, Pu and Am in the soil suggests that simple sedimentary accumulation mechanism cannot provide an adequate explanation for the profiles observed. From preliminary studies of soil pore water composition and detailed analysis of the variation of isotopic ratios in the soil cores, it is apparent that a small but significant component of the radionuclide inventory is mobile. In addition, it is clear that the mechanisms responsible for this mobility allows differentiation between the transuranium nuclides.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)163-171
Number of pages9
JournalEnvironmental Geochemistry and Health
Issue number2-3
Publication statusPublished - 1993


  • actinide
  • mobility
  • Pollutant transport
  • neptunium
  • intertidal sediments
  • Radionuclide
  • Interstital Water
  • Sediment profile
  • Artificial Radionuclide


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