Mechanisms controlling lateral and vertical porewater migration of depleted uranium (DU) at two UK weapons testing sites

Margaret C. Graham, Ian W. Oliver, Angus B. MacKenzie, Robert M. Ellam, John G. Farmer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Uranium associations with colloidal and truly dissolved soil porewater components from two Ministry of Defence Firing Ranges in the UK were investigated. Porewater samples from 2-cm depth intervals for three soil cores from each of the Dundrennan and Eskmeals ranges were fractionated using centrifugal ultrafiltration (UF) and gel electrophoresis (GE). Soil porewaters from a transect running downslope from the Dundrennan firing area towards a stream (Dunrod Burn) were examined similarly. Uranium concentrations and isotopic composition were determined using Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectrometry (ICP-MS) and Multi-Collector-Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectrometry (MC-ICP-MS), respectively.

The soils at Dundrennan were Fe- and Al-rich clay-loam soils whilst at Eskmeals, they were Fe- and Al-poor sandy soils; both, however, had similar organic matter contents due to the presence of a near-surface peaty layer at Eskmeals. These compositional features influenced the porewater composition and indeed the associations of U (and DU). In general, at Dundrennan, U was split between large (100 kDa-0.2 mu m) and small (3-30 kDa) organic colloids whilst at Eskmeals, U was mainly in the small colloidal and truly dissolved fractions. Especially below 10 cm depth, association with large Fe/Al/organic colloids was considered to be a precursor to the removal of U from the Dundrennan porewaters to the solid phase. In contrast, the association of U with small organic colloids was largely responsible for inhibiting attenuation in the Eskmeals soils.

Lateral migration of U (and DU) through near-surface Dundrennan soils will involve both large and small colloids but, at depth, transport of the smaller amounts of U remaining in the porewaters may involve large colloids only. For one of the Dundrennan cores the importance of redox-related processes for the re-mobilisation of DU was also indicated as Mn-IV reduction resulted in the release of both Mn-II and U-VI into the truly dissolved phase. (C) 2011 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1854-1866
Number of pages13
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2011


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