Transuranic Contamination in Sediment and Groundwater at the U.S. DOE Hanford Site

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A review of transuranic radionuclide contamination in sediments and groundwater at the DOE’s Hanford Site was conducted. The review focused primarily on plutonium-239/240 and americium-241; however, other transuranic nuclides were discussed as well, including neptunium-237, plutonium-238, and plutonium-241. The scope of the review included liquid process wastes intentionally disposed to constructed waste disposal facilities such as trenches and cribs, burial grounds, and unplanned releases to the ground surface. The review did not include liquid wastes disposed to tanks or solid wastes disposed to burial grounds. It is estimated that over 11,800 Ci of plutonium-239, 28,700 Ci of americium-241, and 55 ... continued below

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Cantrell, Kirk J. August 20, 2009.

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A review of transuranic radionuclide contamination in sediments and groundwater at the DOE’s Hanford Site was conducted. The review focused primarily on plutonium-239/240 and americium-241; however, other transuranic nuclides were discussed as well, including neptunium-237, plutonium-238, and plutonium-241. The scope of the review included liquid process wastes intentionally disposed to constructed waste disposal facilities such as trenches and cribs, burial grounds, and unplanned releases to the ground surface. The review did not include liquid wastes disposed to tanks or solid wastes disposed to burial grounds. It is estimated that over 11,800 Ci of plutonium-239, 28,700 Ci of americium-241, and 55 Ci of neptunium-237 have been disposed as liquid waste to the near surface environment at the Hanford Site. Despite the very large quantities of transuranic contaminants disposed to the vadose zone at Hanford, only minuscule amounts have entered the groundwater. Currently, no wells onsite exceed the DOE derived concentration guide for plutonium-239/240 (30 pCi/L) or any other transuranic contaminant in filtered samples. The DOE derived concentration guide was exceeded by a small fraction in unfiltered samples from one well (299-E28-23) in recent years (35.4 and 40.4 pCi/L in FY 2006). The primary reason that disposal of these large quantities of transuranic radionuclides directly to the vadose zone at the Hanford Site has not resulted in widespread groundwater contamination is that under the typical oxidizing and neutral to slightly alkaline pH conditions of the Hanford vadose zone, transuranic radionuclides (plutonium and americium in particular) have a very low solubility and high affinity for surface adsorption to mineral surfaces common within the Hanford vadose zone. Other important factors are the fact that the vadose zone is typically very thick (hundreds of feet) and the net infiltration rate is very low due to the desert climate. In some cases where transuranic radionuclides have been co-disposed with acidic liquid waste, transport through the vadose zone for considerable distances has occurred. For example, at the 216-Z-9 Crib, plutonium-239 and americium-241 have moved to depths in excess of 36 m (118 ft) bgs. Acidic conditions increase the solubility of these contaminants and reduce adsorption to mineral surfaces. Subsequent neutralization of the acidity by naturally occurring calcite in the vadose zone (particularly in the Cold Creek unit) appears to have effectively stopped further migration. The vast majority of transuranic contaminants disposed to the vadose zone on the Hanford Site (10,200 Ci [86%] of plutonium-239; 27,900 Ci [97%] of americium-241; and 41.8 Ci [78%] of neptunium-237) were disposed in sites within the PFP Closure Zone. This closure zone is located within the 200 West Area (see Figures 1.1 and 3.1). Other closure zones with notably high quantities of transuranic contaminant disposal include the T Farm Zone with 408 Ci (3.5%) plutonium-239, the PUREX Zone with 330 Ci (2.8%) plutonium-239, 200-W Ponds Zone with 324 Ci (2.8%) plutonium-239, B Farm Zone with 183 Ci (1.6%) plutonium-239, and the REDOX Zone with 164 Ci (1.4%) plutonium 239. Characterization studies for most of the sites reviewed in the document are generally limited. The most prevalent characterization methods used were geophysical logging methods. Characterization of a number of sites included laboratory analysis of borehole sediment samples specifically for radionuclides and other contaminants, and geologic and hydrologic properties. In some instances, more detailed research level studies were conducted. Results of these studies were summarized in the document.

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  • Report No.: PNNL-18640
  • Grant Number: AC05-76RL01830
  • DOI: 10.2172/963202 | External Link
  • Office of Scientific & Technical Information Report Number: 963202
  • Archival Resource Key: ark:/67531/metadc933184

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  • August 20, 2009

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  • Nov. 13, 2016, 7:26 p.m.

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  • Dec. 7, 2016, 11:19 p.m.

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Cantrell, Kirk J. Transuranic Contamination in Sediment and Groundwater at the U.S. DOE Hanford Site, report, August 20, 2009; Richland, Washington. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc933184/: accessed December 10, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.