Field observation of sequestration of uranium in iron-rich sediments under sequential reduction-oxidation conditions at the DOE Oak Ridge IFRC

Craig Criddle, Wei-Min Wu, David Watson, Tonia Mehlhorn, Kennith Lowe, Jennifer Earles, Janna Phillips, Guoping Tang, Bing Li, Yuangqing Chao, Tong Zhang, Shelly Kelly, Debra Phillips

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePosterpeer-review


    At the U.S. DOE Oak Ridge Integrated Field Research Challenge (ORIFRC) site, the iron content of shallow subsurface materials (i.e. weathered saprolite) is relatively high (up to 5-6% as w/w), and therefore, the forms of the iron species present plays a critical role in the long-term sequestration of uranium. A long term pilot-scale study of the bioreduction and reoxidation of uranium conducted at the ORIFRC area 3 site, adjacent to the former S-3 disposal ponds (source zone), has provided us with the opportunity to study the impact of iron species on the sequestration of U(VI). The aqueous U(VI) concentrations at the site were decreased to below the EPA MCL through the intermittent injection of ethanol as the electron donor. Previous field tests indicated that both oxygen and nitrate could oxidize the bioreduced U(IV) and cause a short-term rebound of aqueous phase uranium concentration after the oxidative agents were delivered directly to the bioreduced zone.

    A field test has been conducted to examine the long-term effect of exposure of bioreduced sediments to nitrate in contaminated groundwater for more than 1,380 days at the Area 3 site. Contaminated groundwater was allowed to invade the previously bioreduced zone via the natural groundwater gradient after an extended period in which reducing conditions were maintained and the bioreduced zone was protected from the influx of upgradient contaminated groundwater. The geochemical response to the invasion of contaminated groundwater was dependent on whether the monitoring location is in the middle or the fringe of the previously bioreduced zone. In general, the nitrate concentrations in the previously bioreduced area, increased gradually from near zero to ~50-300 mM within 200 days and then stabilized. The pH declined from bioreduced levels of 6.2-6.7 to below 5.0. Uranium concentrations rebounded in all monitoring wells but at different rates. At most locations U concentrations rebounded, declined and then rebounded again. Methane gas disappeared while a significant level (20,000 to 44,000 ppmv) N2O was found in the groundwater of monitoring wells after three years of reoxidization.

    The U(IV) in sediments was mainly reoxidized to U(VI) species. Based on XANES analysis, the predominate uranium in all samples after re-oxidation was similar to a uranyl nitrate form. But the U content in the sediment remained as high as that determined after bioreduction activates were completed, indicating that much of the U is still sequestrated in situ. SEM observations of surged fine sediments revealed that clusters of colloidal-sized (200-500nm) U-containing precipitates appeared to have formed in situ, regardless from sample of FW106 in non-bioactivity control area or of pre-bioreduced FW101-2 and FW102-3. Additionally, SEM-EDS and microprobe analysis, showed that the U-containing precipitates (~1% U) in FW106 are notably higher in Fe, compared to the precipitates (~1-2.5% U) from FW101-2 and FW102-3. However, XRF analysis indicated that the U content was remained as high as 2180 and 1810 mg/kg with U/Fe ratio at 0.077 and 0.055 vs 0.037 g/g, respectively in pre-bioreduced FW101-2 and FW102-3, suggesting more U sequestrated by Fe in pre-bioreduced sediments.
    Original languageEnglish
    Number of pages0
    Publication statusIn preparation - 2013
    EventU.S. Dept. of Energy Subsurface Biogechemical Research Annual Meeting - Washington DC, United States
    Duration: 30 Apr 201202 May 2013


    ConferenceU.S. Dept. of Energy Subsurface Biogechemical Research Annual Meeting
    Country/TerritoryUnited States
    CityWashington DC


    • uranium, bioreduction


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