Portions of the Hanford Site (WA, USA) vadose zone were subjected to weathering by caustic solutions during documented releases of high level radioactive waste (containing Sr, Cs and I) from leaking underground storage tanks. Previous studies have shown that waste-sediment interactions can promote variable incorporation of contaminants into neo-formed mineral products (including feldspathoids and zeolites), but processes regulating the subsequent contaminant release from these phases into infiltrating background pore waters remain poorly known. In this paper, reactive transport experiments were conducted with Hanford sediments previously weathered for one year in simulated hyper-alkaline waste solutions containing high or low 88Sr, 127I, and 133Cs concentrations, with or without CO2(aq). These waste-weathered sediments were leached in flow-through column experiments with simulated background pore water (characteristic of meteoric recharge) to measure contaminant release from solids formed during waste-sediment interaction. Contaminant sorption-desorption kinetics and mineral transformation reactions were both monitored using continuous-flow and wet-dry cycling regimes for ca. 300 pore volumes. Less than 20% of contaminant 133Cs and 88Sr mass and less than 40% 127I mass were released over the course of the experiment. To elucidate molecular processes limiting contaminant release, reacted sediments were studied with micro- (TEM and XRD) and molecular- (Sr K-edge EXAFS) scale methods. Contaminant dynamics in column experiments were principally controlled by rapid dissolution of labile solids and competitive exchange reactions. In initially feldspathoidic systems, time-dependent changes in the local zeolitic bonding environment observed with X-ray diffraction and EXAFS are responsible for limiting contaminant release. Linear combination fits and shell-by-shell analysis of Sr K-edge EXAFS data revealed modification in Sr-Si/Al distances within the zeolite cage. Wet-dry cycling did not affect significantly molecular-scale transformations relative to continuous-flow controls. Results indicate that contaminants bound to the solid phase in distinct micro- and molecular-scale coordinative environments can generate similar macro-scale release behaviors, highlighting the need for multi-scale interrogations to constrain mechanisms of reactive transport. Data also indicate that weathering-induced change in ion exchange selectivity coefficients should be incorporated in simulations of contaminant release from caustic high-level radioactive waste impacted sediments.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Geochemistry and Petrology