SREL Reprint #2439




Spectroscopic characterization of uranium in evaporation basin sediments

M. C. Duff1,3, D. E. Morris2, D. B. Hunter1, and P. M. Bertsch1

1The Advanced Analytical Center for Environmental Sciences, The Savannah River Ecology Laboratory,
University of Georgia, Drawer E, Aiken, SC 29802 USA
2Chemical Science and Technology Division and the Glenn T. Seaborg Institute for Transactinium Science,
Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, NM 87545 USA
3Formerly of the Chemical Science and Technology Division, Los Alamos National Laboratory,
Los Alamos, NM 87545 USA

Abstract: Evaporation ponds in the San Joaquin Valley (SJV), CA, used for the containment of irrigation drainage waters contain elevated levels of uranium (U) resulting from the extensive leaching by carbonate-rich irrigation waters of the local agricultural soils that contain low levels of naturally-occurring U. The SJV ponds are subjected to changes in redox chemistry with cycles of drying and flooding. Our past studies have shown that U in the SJV Pond 14 surface sediments is present as mostly the oxidized and soluble form, U(VI). However, we were uncertain whether the U in the soil was only present as a U oxide of mixed stoichiometry, such as U3O8(s) (pitchblende) or other species. Here we present characterization information, which includes wet chemical and in situ spectroscopic techniques (X-ray absorption near-edge structure (XANES) and low temperature time-resolved luminescence spectroscopies) for samples from two SJV Pond sediments. Surface sediments from SJV Pond 16 were characterized for average oxidation state of U with XANES spectroscopy. The fraction of U(VI) to U(IV) in the Pond 16 sediments decreased with depth with U(IV) being the dominant oxidation state in the 5 cm to 15 cm depth. Two luminescent U(VI) species were identified in the surface sediments from Pond 14; a U(VI)-tricarbonate phase and another phase likely comprised of U(VI)-hydroxide or hydroxycarbonate. The luminescent U(VI) population in the Pond 16 sediments is dominated by species with comparable spectral characteristics to the U(VI)-hydroxide or hydroxycarbonate species found in the Pond 14 sediments. The luminescence spectroscopic results were complemented by wet chemical U leaching methods, which involved the use of carbonate and sulfuric acid solutions and oxidizing solutions of peroxide, hypochlorite and Mn(IV). Leaching was shown to decrease the total U concentration in the sediments in all cases. However, results from lumnescence studies of the residual fraction in the leached sediments suggest that there was no selectivity in the removal of the spectroscopically identifiable U(VI) species by acidic oxidizing, basic oxidizing or basic non-oxidizing solutions. A net increase in the emission intensity of the U(VI) luminescent species in most leached samples was consistent with conversion of U(IV) to U(VI), as a result of chemical oxidation and exposure to air during the leaching process. The wet chemical extractions and in situ spectroscopic techniques provided fundamental and basic knowledge about the fraction of U(IV) to U(VI), the speciation of luminescent U(VI), and the susceptibility of the sediment U species to leaching.

SREL Reprint #2439

Duff, M. C., D. E. Morris, D. B. Hunter, and P. M. Bertsch. 2000. Spectroscopic characterization of uranium in evaporation basin sediments. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 64:1535-1550.

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