May 1, 2018
Journal Article

Assessment of calcium addition on the removal of U(VI) in the alkaline conditions created by NH3 gas


Remediation of uranium (U) contamination in the deep vadose zone (VZ) sediments abundant in calcite mineral is a challenging task considering the formation of highly stable and mobile uranyl complexes with carbonate and calcium in pore water composition. There is a concern that uranium contamination in the VZ can serve as a continued source for groundwater pollution, creating a risk to human health and the environment through the groundwater pathway. This requires in-situ remediation of the radionuclide-contaminated VZ to convert soluble U species to low solubility precipitates that are stable in the natural environment. Injection of reactive gasses (e.g., NH3) is a promising technology to decrease U mobility in the unsaturated zone without the addition of liquid amendments. The NH3 injection creates alkaline conditions that can alter the sediment pore water composition due to a release of elements from minerals (via desorption and dissolution) that are present in the sediment. However, it is not known how VZ pore water constituents (Si, Al3+, HCO3 -, and Ca2 +) would affect U(VI) removal/precipitation in alkaline conditions. This study quantified the role of major pore water constituents typically present in the arid and semi-arid environments of the western regions of the U.S and identified solid uranium-bearing phases that could potentially precipitate from solutions approximating pore water compositions after pH manipulations via ammonia gas injections. Triplicate samples were prepared using six Si (5, 50 100, 150, 200, and 250 mM), six HCO3 - (0, 3, 25, 50, 75, and 100 mM), and two Ca2+ (5 and 10 mM) concentrations. The concentration of aluminum and uranium was kept constant at 5mM and 0.0084 mM, respectively, in all synthetic formulations tested. Results showed that the percentage of U(VI) removal was controlled by the Si/Al molar ratios and Ca2+ concentrations. Regardless of the bicarbonate concentration tested, the percentage of U(VI) removed increased as the Si/Al ratios were increased. However, higher Ca concentrations correlated with higher U(VI) removal, ranging between 96% and 99%, at low Si/Al ratios. The SEM images of dried precipitates displayed dense amorphous regions high in silica content, where EDS elemental analysis unveiled higher U atomic percentages. The formation of uranyl silicate and carbonate minerals was also predicted by the speciation modeling. XRD analysis revealed the presence of uranyl carbonate mineral phases (andersonite, grimselite); however, uranyl silicates predicted (Naboltwoodite) were not identified experimentally, possibly due to the amorphous nature of the silica solid phases observed in our experiments.

Revised: May 2, 2019 | Published: May 1, 2018


Katsenovich Y., C. Cardona, J.E. Szecsody, L. Lagos, and W. Tang. 2018. Assessment of calcium addition on the removal of U(VI) in the alkaline conditions created by NH3 gas. Applied Geochemistry 92. PNNL-SA-139080. doi:10.1016/j.apgeochem.2018.03.003