The geochemical behaviour of uranium in the Boom Clay
In Belgium, the Boom Clay is currently studied as the reference host formation for the disposal of high-level and long-lived radioactive waste. In case of direct disposal of spent fuel, uranium isotopes are important contributors along with their daughters to the dose rate at very long term. Therefore, it is essential to study the migration of uranium in the host formation. The present work contributes to improve the knowledge of uranium speciation in the Boom Clay, U(IV) versus U(VI), and of the mechanisms controlling the uranium mobility such as solubility, sorption and complexation by organic matter. The information necessary to interpret the migration behaviour is derived from the study of naturally occurring uranium in the rock and from laboratory experiments conducted under conditions representative for the Boom Clay.
Uranium naturally present in the Boom Clay is concentrated in detrital heavy minerals and in authigenic iron(II)-bearing minerals such as siderite and glauconite. Despite its reducing capacity, pyrite is surprisingly depleted in uranium relative to the mean content. Furthermore, uranium is also associated with the surfaces of clay minerals. The clayey fraction contains about 4 ppm uranium and is the main contributor to the total uranium content of the Boom Clay since it constitutes up to 60 wt. % of the rock. The correlation observed on the field between uranium and organic matter suggests that uranium is reduced, likely during the early diagenesis process of bacterially-mediated sulphate reduction.
If hexavalent oxidation state of uranium predominates as predicted by geochemical calculations based on the most recent thermodynamic data of the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA), less than 5% of uranium is complexed by humic acids in the Boom Clay pore water. The U(VI) speciation is dominated by the inorganic carbonate complexes, merely UO2(CO3)34-. The conditional constant determined for the complexation of U(VI) by humic acids under in situ Boom Clay conditions is log? ?exp = 12.4. However, experimental studies show that UO2(CO3)34- is reduced by interaction with pyrite, the main reducing mineral present in the rock, and precipitates as a mixed oxide of U(IV)/U(VI), i.e. UO2+x. Moreover, electromigration experiments suggest that U(VI) is not stable in the Boom Clay: U(VI) is reduced and precipitates as U(IV) oxy-hydroxides. The experimentally measured solubility of U(IV) amorphous oxide, UO2(am), in Boom Clay pore water is about 10 8 mol•l 1. This solubility value is not increased by complexation of U(IV) with dissolved organic matter. The dominant effect of organic matter on the dissolution of UO2(am) is the stabilisation of U(IV) real colloids which increase the uranium concentration by three orders of magnitude. However, the mobility of these colloids is expected to be very limited because of the compaction level of the Boom Clay and its ultra-filtrating feature. The diffusive transport of dissolved uranium is furthermore retarded by significant sorption onto clay minerals.
In conclusion, the presence of organic matter in the Boom Clay has no negative effect on the uranium retention which is dominated by the solubility and sorption of U(IV) species
School:Université catholique de Louvain
Source Type:Master's Thesis
Keywords:solubility boom clay sorption organic matter complexation uranium
Date of Publication:06/28/2004