Reduction of uranyl carbonate and hydroxyl complexes and neptunyl carbonate complexes studied with chemical-electrochemical methods and rixs spectroscopy

Sergei Butorin, Joseph Nordgren, Kaija Ollila, Yngve Albinsson, Lars Werme

    Research output: Book/ReportReport


    Sweden and Finland plan to dispose of spent fuel from commercial nuclear power plants in deep underground repositories sited in granitic rocks. The fuel assemblies will be placed in canisters consisting of an outer corrosion-resistant copper shell with an inner cast iron insert that gives mechanical strength and reduces void space in the canister. The canister will be placed in a disposal borehole lined with compacted bentonite blocks. After sealing of the borehole, groundwater seepage will saturate the bentonite. The water flow path and transport mechanism between the host rock and the canister will be via diffusion through the swollen bentonite. Any oxygen trapped in the repository will be consumed by reaction with the host rock, pyrite in the bentonite and through microbial activity, giving long-term conditions with low redox potentials. Under these conditions, uranium dioxide - the matrix of unirradiated fuel - is a stable phase. This reducing near-field environment can upset by radiolysis of water caused by the radioactivity of the fuel, which after a few hundred years will be primarily alpha activity. Radiolysis of water produces equal amounts of oxidising and reducing species, but the reducing species produced by alpha radiolysis is molecular hydrogen, which is expected to be far less reactive than the produced oxidising species, H2O2. Alpha radiolysis could create locally oxidising conditions close to the fuel surface and oxidise the U(IV) in the uranium dioxide fuel to the more soluble U(VI) oxidation state. Furthermore, the solubility of U(VI) is enhanced in the presence of bicarbonate/carbonate by the formation of strong anionic uranyl carbonate complexes. This increase in solubility can amount to 4 to 5 orders of magnitude depending on the composition of the groundwater in contact with the fuel. The other tetravalent actinides in the fuel, Np and Pu, also have higher solubilities when oxidised beyond 4+ to neptunyl and plutonyl species. Once these actinides have been mobilised through oxidation, they can migrate away from this potentially oxidising region and will encounter an oxygen free, reducing environment caused by the anaerobic corrosion of the cast iron insert. The actinyl species are no longer thermodynamically stable and reduction to the tetravalent state will be possible. There is, however, an open question whether the reduction kinetics will be sufficiently high to cause reduction in solution and if sorption onto the corroding iron surface will be accompanied by an electron transfer sufficiently rapid to reduce the actinide back to the tetravalent state. This report contains the results of experimental studies of uranium reduction-depletion from water solutions in the presence of corroding iron and spectroscopic studies of the oxidation state of uranium and neptunium sorbed/precipitated onto iron under oxygen free conditions using resonant inelastic soft x-ray scattering (RIXS) spectroscopy. The RIXS measurements show that at least partial reduction of both uranyl carbonate complexes and neptunyl carbonate complexes take place on the corroding iron surface. The chemical/electrochemical measurements indicate that reduction of uranyl carbonate complexes also take place in solution in a system containing corroding iron, i.e. sorption onto the iron/iron oxide surface may not be necessary in order for reduction to take place. Reduction of uranyl hydroxyl complexes was also found to take place in solution, but at a rate that was noticeably lower than for the uranyl carbonate complexes
    Original languageEnglish
    Place of PublicationStockholm
    Number of pages36
    Publication statusPublished - 2003
    MoE publication typeD4 Published development or research report or study

    Publication series

    SeriesSvensk kärnbränslehantering AB. Technical Report

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    Butorin, S., Nordgren, J., Ollila, K., Albinsson, Y., & Werme, L. (2003). Reduction of uranyl carbonate and hydroxyl complexes and neptunyl carbonate complexes studied with chemical-electrochemical methods and rixs spectroscopy. Svensk kärnbränslehantering AB. Technical Report, No. SKB-TR-03-15