The sorption of thorium, protacintium and plutonium onto silica particles in the presence of a colloidal third phase
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The fate of actinides in the environment is of interest for a several reasons. In oceanic surface waters actinides such as thorium and protactinium, and in particular their ratio, are used as tracers of processes such as boundary scavenging and paleocirculation. Thorium is also used to estimate residence times and particle and colloid fluxes from the euphotic zone, which is useful in global carbon budgets used to assess effects of global warming. Terrestrially, contaminated areas in need of remediation, such as former nuclear weapons production facilities, remain as repositories for no longer needed actinide stockpiles or waste by-products such as plutonium. All three of these actinides: thorium, protactinium, and plutonium are known to be particle-reactive but the extent to which they sorb to immobile particles and mobile colloids can vary with environmental conditions. Understanding controls on adsorption is important in understanding uses and any limitations of these radioactive tracers caused by colloids. Often laboratory studies to understand actinide behavior are conducted at concentrations (micro- to millimolar), which are orders of magnitude higher than they are found in the environment (femto- to picomolar). Colloids, a size class of particles operationally defined as 1 nm to 1 µm in size, are ubiquitous in aquatic systems. The effect colloids have on actinide particle association, i.e. competitive or enhancing, can have a profound influence on the ultimate behavior of the actinide. The overall aim of this study is to assess sorption of thorium, protactinium and plutonium onto silica particles as a proxy for inorganic particles found in surface or ocean waters. In addition to the binary system of actinide/silica, the ternary system actinide/ organic colloid/ silica were also carried out to determine the affect of the organic colloid has on particle association. In particular, extracellular polymeric substances (EPS) extracted from laboratory grown bacteria and phytoplankton cultures were utilized as they too are ubiquitous in aquatic systems and have shown to strongly complex actinide ions, with EPS involved in oceanic scavenging of Th, as well as immobilization/mobilization of Pu in contaminated areas on land.
Roberts, Kimberly Ann (2008). The sorption of thorium, protacintium and plutonium onto silica particles in the presence of a colloidal third phase. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from