Plant Mounds as Concentration and Stabilization Agents for Actinide Soil Contaminants in Nevada

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Plant mounds or blow-sand mounds are accumulations of soil particles and plant debris around the base of shrubs and are common features in deserts in the southwestern United States. An important factor in their formation is that shrubs create surface roughness that causes wind-suspended particles to be deposited and resist further suspension. Shrub mounds occur in some plant communities on the Nevada Test Site, the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR), and Tonopah Test Range (TTR), including areas of surface soil contamination from past nuclear testing. In the 1970s as part of early studies to understand properties of actinides in ... continued below

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Shafer, D.S. & Gommes, J. February 3, 2009.

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Plant mounds or blow-sand mounds are accumulations of soil particles and plant debris around the base of shrubs and are common features in deserts in the southwestern United States. An important factor in their formation is that shrubs create surface roughness that causes wind-suspended particles to be deposited and resist further suspension. Shrub mounds occur in some plant communities on the Nevada Test Site, the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR), and Tonopah Test Range (TTR), including areas of surface soil contamination from past nuclear testing. In the 1970s as part of early studies to understand properties of actinides in the environment, the Nevada Applied Ecology Group (NAEG) examined the accumulation of isotopes of Pu, 241Am, and U in plant mounds at safety experiment and storage-transportation test sites of nuclear devices. Although aerial concentrations of these contaminants were highest in the intershrub or desert pavement areas, the concentration in mounds were higher than in equal volumes of intershrub or desert pavement soil. The NAEG studies found the ratio of contaminant concentration of actinides in soil to be greater (1.6 to 2.0) in shrub mounds than in the surrounding areas of desert pavement. At Project 57 on the NTTR, 17 percent of the area was covered in mounds while at Clean Slate III on the TTR, 32 percent of the area was covered in mounds. If equivalent volumes of contaminated soil were compared between mounds and desert pavement areas at these sites, then the former might contain as much as 34 and 62 percent of the contaminant inventory, respectively. Not accounting for radionuclides associated with shrub mounds would cause the inventory of contaminants and potential exposure to be underestimated. In addition, preservation of shrub mounds could be important part of long-term stewardship if these sites are closed by fencing and posting with administrative controls.

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  • WM2009 Conference, March 1-5, 2009, Phoenix, AZ

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  • Report No.: CONF-2009-01
  • Grant Number: AC52-06NA26383
  • Office of Scientific & Technical Information Report Number: 948043
  • Archival Resource Key: ark:/67531/metadc895816

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  • February 3, 2009

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  • Sept. 27, 2016, 1:39 a.m.

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  • Dec. 6, 2016, 4 p.m.

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Shafer, D.S. & Gommes, J. Plant Mounds as Concentration and Stabilization Agents for Actinide Soil Contaminants in Nevada, article, February 3, 2009; United States. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc895816/: accessed September 25, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.