The geochemistry of radioactive waste disposal

  • Nigel Davison

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The present study attempted to identify the significant parameters which affect radionuclide migration from a low level radioactive waste disposal site located in a clay deposit. From initial sorption studies on smectite minerals, increased Kd with decreasing initial cation concentration was observed, and three sorption mechanisms were identified. The observation of anion dependent sorption was related to the existence of a mechanism in which an anion-cation pair are bound to the clay surface through the anion. The influence of competing cations, typical of inorganic groundwater constituents, depended on: (1) Ni/Co:Mn+(Mn+ = competing cation) ratio, (2) nature of M^n+, (3) total solution ionic strength. The presence of organic material in groundwater is well documented, but its effect on cation sorption has not been established. An initial qualitative investigation involving addition of simple organic ligands to Ni(Co)-hectorite samples demonstrated the formation of metal complexes in the clay interlayers, although some modified behaviour was observed. Further quantitative examination involving likely groundwater organic constituents and more comprehensive physical investigation confirmed this behaviour and enabled separation of the organic compounds used into two classes, according to their effect on cation sorption; (i) acids, (ii) amine compounds. X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, scanning electron microscopy and Mossbauer spectroscopy were used to investigate the nature of transition metal ions sorbed onto montmorillonite and hectorite. Evidence strongly favoured the sorption of the hexaaquo cation, although a series of sorption sites of slightly different chemical characteristics were responsible for broadened peak widths observed in XPS and Mossbauer investigations. The surface sensitivity of XPS enabled recognition of the two surface sorption sites proposed in earlier sorption studies. Although thermal treatment of Fe^3+/Fe^2+-hectorite samples left iron atoms bonded to the silicate sheet structure, Mossbauer evidence indicated the presence of both ferric and ferrous iron in all samples.
Date of AwardSept 1987
Original languageEnglish


  • montmorillonite
  • sorption
  • hectorite
  • radioactive waste

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