Radionuclide behaviour in hyperalkaline systems relevant to geological disposal of radioactive waste

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • Kurt Smith


In many countries the current plan for the management of intermediate and high level radioactive wastes is to dispose of the radioactive materials underground in a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF) to prevent release of radioactivity to the environment. In the UK, the repository for intermediate level waste may be backfilled with cementitious material and it is clear that grout and cement will be used during many disposal concepts. Upon saturation, the cement will react creating a region of hyperalkaline geochemical conditions extending away from the GDF, within which, significant changes in radionuclide behaviour are expected. Therefore, this thesis utilises a range of experimental and analytical techniques to try to gain a mechanistic understanding of the behaviour of some key radionuclides (U(VI), Np(V) and Eu(III) as an analogue for Cm(III)/Am(III)) in a range of high pH systems of direct relevance to any cementitious GDF. U(VI) interaction with calcite (calcium carbonate, a common component in high pH cements and the natural environment) surfaces was studied in the 'old' (Ca(OH)2 solution; pH 10.5) and 'young' (Na+, K+, Ca2+; pH 13.3) leachates. In the 'old' leachate, luminescence spectroscopy, batch experiments and kinetic modelling suggested that at low concentrations (smaller or equal to 0.42 µM) a Ca2UO2(CO3)3-like surface complex formed. At higher concentrations, batch experiments, extended X-ray absorption fine structure spectroscopy and luminescence suggested that a surface mediated precipitation mechanism was controlling U(VI) concentrations. Further TEM analysis confirmed that a calcium uranate (CaUO4) solid phase was forming on the calcite surfaces. In the 'young' leachate, batch experiments showed that U(VI) had little affinity for the calcite surface, with no statistically relevant removal from solution observed over a 18 month period. Small angle X-ray diffraction data demonstrated that the U(VI) was probably present in the form of U(VI) intrinsic colloids. Np(V) solubility and sorption to calcite under hyperalkaline conditions were studied using batch, X-ray absorption spectroscopy, and geochemical modelling techniques. It was determined that Np(V) solubility in 'old' cement leachates was consistent with the literature. However, in 'young' cement leachates, an unidentified calcium containing phase was controlling solubility. It was demonstrated that sorption to calcite in 'old' leachates was controlled by the formation of a >CO3NpO2 surface complex, whereas, in the 'young' leachates interaction with the calcite surface was controlled by a precipitation mechanism. Eu(III) sorption to a potential GDF backfill material, Nirex Reference Vault Backfill (NRVB) cement, was studied. The kinetics of removal were rapid with 98.5% Eu(III) removal within 24 hours. Ultrafiltration experiments indicated that all Eu(III) remaining in solution was associated with NRVB derived colloids. Additional experiments using ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA) as a competing ligand show that removal from solution was significantly reduced at high concentrations (>0.01 M). These EDTA experiments also indicated some irreversibility in the systems, possibly caused by incorporation into the C-S-H or calcite structures.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date31 Dec 2014