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Geochemistry of uranium at mineral-water interfaces: rates of sorption-desorption and dissolution-precipitation reactions


Giammar, Daniel (2001) Geochemistry of uranium at mineral-water interfaces: rates of sorption-desorption and dissolution-precipitation reactions. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/EJ9E-XW58.


The extraction and processing of uranium for use in the nuclear weapons program and in commercial nuclear energy has led to extensive contamination of the environment. Migration of uranium is also a concern for the proposed long-term nuclear waste disposal in geologic repositories. Reactions occurring at mineral surfaces significantly affect the mobility of uranium in the environment. Both the equilibrium and kinetics of reactions at mineral surfaces must be understood in order to predict the extent of reactions on time scales pertinent to human exposure. Such information is needed to establish input parameters for reactive transport models and to design remediation technologies.

Rates of uranium sorption on mineral surfaces and the dissolution of uranium-containing minerals have been investigated. Rates of sorption onto and desorption from goethite, an important environmental sorbent, were determined by measuring the responses of goethite suspensions (pre-equilibrated with or without uranium) to perturbations of the solution chemistry. Dissolution rates were measured for a set of laboratory-synthesized minerals: the uranyl oxide hydrate schoepite, the uranyl silicate soddyite, and a uranyl phosphate phase. These minerals have been observed in contaminated environments and are produced during the corrosion of spent nuclear fuel. Mineral dissolution and transformation were monitored in batch reactors, while dissolution rates were quantified in flow-through reactors. In both sorption and dissolution-precipitation studies, measurements of bulk solution chemistry were integrated with solid phase characterization.

While sorption processes were rapid, dissolution and surface-precipitation reactions occurred more slowly. Adsorption and desorption reactions of uranium onto or from goethite reached greater than 50% completion within minutes and completion on a time-scale of hours. In some uranium-goethite suspensions, a meta-stable sorption state persisted for as long as three weeks before a schoepite-like phase precipitated. Dissolution reactions proceeded at time-scales of hours for schoepite and days to weeks for soddyite and the uranyl phosphate. Common groundwater cations affected dissolution rates and, in several cases, resulted in the precipitation of uranium in secondary phases. In several schoepite and soddyite batch dissolution experiments, uranium ultimately reprecipitated in sodium or cesium uranyl oxide hydrate phases which subsequently controlled the dissolved uranium concentration.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Adsorption; Autunite; Becquerelite; Clarkeite; Goethite; Iron Oxides; Radionuclides; Schoepite; Soddyite; Surface Precipitation; Uranium(VI) Minerals; Uranyl Oxide Hydrates
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Engineering and Applied Science
Major Option:Environmental Science and Engineering
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Hering, Janet G.
Thesis Committee:
  • Hering, Janet G. (chair)
  • Rossman, George Robert
  • Morgan, James J.
  • Hoffmann, Michael R.
Defense Date:8 May 2001
Record Number:CaltechETD:etd-05212002-125705
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:1903
Deposited By: Imported from ETD-db
Deposited On:05 Jun 2002
Last Modified:21 Dec 2019 02:20

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