skip to main content
OSTI.GOV title logo U.S. Department of Energy
Office of Scientific and Technical Information

Title: Collaborative Research: Natural Organic Matter and Microbial Controls on Mobilization/Immobilization of I and Pu in Soils and Waters Affected by Radionuclide Releases in USA and Japan

Abstract

In this project, the relationship between natural organic matter (NOM) and two radioactive elements that are relevant to nuclear waste disposal were studied: Plutonium (Pu) and Iodine. The human and environmental risks associated with Pu stem mainly from the very long half-lives of several of its isotopes ( 238Pu, 88 yr; 239Pu, 24,100 yr; 240Pu, 6560 yr) and its radiotoxicity. Understanding Pu biogeochemical behavior in both near-field (>10-11M) and far-field scales (<10-11M) is imperative to the development of approaches for reprocessing Pu, remediation of Pu contamination and accurate assessment of risks posed by disposal practices for Pu-bearing wastes. The environmental mobility of Pu can be affected by redox potential, pH, adsorption, precipitation, complexation, colloid formation, and microbial activity, of which the first characteristic has the most profound influence. Numerous studies have shown high affinity of Pu towards NOM, as well as to mineral phases. NOM is ubiquitous in the environment, e.g., both fulvic and humic acids are able to reduce Pu(V,VI) to Pu(IV) and the redox potential of NOM is positively related to the abundance of phenolic/acidic OH groups. NOM can either facilitate or limit actinide migration, depending on specific biogeochemical conditions including pH, mineral and organic matter characteristics, etc.more » The other radionuclide of interest is radioiodine ( 129I). 129I is a major by-product of nuclear fission and of serious concern to the Department of Energy (DOE) as it is among the top risk drivers at existing and potential radiowaste-contaminated sites. The risk of 129I stems largely from its high bioconcentration factor (90% of the body’s iodine is accumulated in the thyroid), a high inventory at source terms, a very long-half life (16M years), and rapid mobility in the subsurface environment. As a consequence, 129I has the lowest drinking water standard (1 pCi/L) among all radionuclides in the Federal Register. With a novel and sensitive gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) method developed in our lab, it is possible to quickly and simultaneously determine the distribution of 129I and stable 127I forms in environments, as low as 2 pCi/L for 129I. This method was subsequently validated using accelerator mass spectroscopy, AMS. IO 3 - and organo-I were determined as major species in the groundwater of SRS and the Hanford Site, contrary to thermodynamic predictions that I- should be the dominant species at these sites. Mobility of 129I was also demonstrated to depend greatly on the I species and its concentration, sediment pH, and redox state, with times to achieve equilibrium taking up to 12 weeks. Along the groundwater pathway in the F-Area of SRS, 129I- supplied from the seepage basins was transformed to 129IO 3 - and organo- 129I with increasing iodine sediment sorption, causing the lower total 127I and 129I concentrations along the gradient transect of the waste plume. By contrast, groundwater 129I concentrations in the wetlands (as high as 1617.3 pCi/L) were greatly elevated with respect to the source term (159.3 pCi/L). While the NOM promoted the uptake of 129I to the wetland sediment, it also promoted the formation of soluble organic fraction. A small fraction of NOM that is bound to iodine can behave as a mobile organo-I source. Iodide was enzymatically incorporated into NOM, whereas both iodide and iodate were abiotically bound to NOM, under certain conditions. Iodate removal from the mobile aqueous phase can also occur through incorporation into carbonate (e.g., at the Hanford Site, USA). Thus immobilization and re-mobilization of iodine species were influenced by pH, Eh and the presence of NOM and metal oxides, which adds to the complexity of site remediation action. A ground-breaking result was to elucidate the products (i.e. organo-iodine moieties formed via enzymatic and non-enzymatic processes) at the molecular level by nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and electrospray ionization Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometry (ESI-FTICRMS). We found that iodine-NOM interactions may be influenced by NOM hydrophobic aliphatic moieties. From the perspective of ESI-FTICRMS, organo-iodine formulas were ascribed to the groups of unsaturated hydrocarbons, lignins and proteins. Iodate is likely abiotically reduced to reactive iodine species by lignin- and tannin-like compounds or carboxylic-rich alicyclic molecules (CRAM). We also investigated microbial mechanisms in iodine incorporation into NOM. We established that soil bacteria isolated from F-Area of SRS did not accumulate significant amounts of I- (0.2-2%). Intracellular uptake of I- decreases with increasing pH when pH ranged from 4 to 6. In contrast, 44 out of 84 strains isolated from the F-Area of SRS can transform I- to IO 3 - and organo-iodine. In some cases, oxidation was facilitated in the presence of H 2O 2. Microbes can also excrete organic acids that enhance I- oxidation by lowering the ambient pH and reacting with H 2O 2 to form peroxy carboxylic acids. At lower pH values (≤5), H 2O 2 hydrolysis was the driving force for iodide-oxidation; whereas, at pH ≥ 6, spontaneous decomposition of peroxy carboxylic acids, originating from H 2O 2 and organic acids were the primary cause of iodide oxidation. Lastly, it was determined that microbial processes involved in Mn (II) are capable of directly oxidizing I- via enzymatic catalysis (i.e., multicopper oxidases), or indirectly through the formation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and/or biogenic manganese oxides. ROS-mediated oxidation of I- was found to predominate at pH >5, whereas the enzymatic and Mn oxide pathways were more active at pH < 5. Together, this project has resulted in 9 publications in high-impact journals, and the training of 1 Ph.D and 4 undergraduate students.« less

Authors:
ORCiD logo [1]; ORCiD logo [1]; ORCiD logo [1]; ORCiD logo [2];  [3]
  1. Texas A & M Univ. at Galveston, TX (United States)
  2. Savannah River Site (SRS), Aiken, SC (United States). Savannah River National Lab. (SRNL)
  3. Los Alamos National Lab. (LANL), Los Alamos, NM (United States)
Publication Date:
Research Org.:
Texas A & M Univ. at Galveston, TX (United States)
Sponsoring Org.:
USDOE Office of Science (SC), Biological and Environmental Research (BER). Biological Systems Science Division
OSTI Identifier:
1579739
Report Number(s):
DOE-SBR-Santschi-FnlRep-2019
DOE Contract Number:  
SC0014152
Resource Type:
Technical Report
Country of Publication:
United States
Language:
English
Subject:
54 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES; plutonium; radioiodine; contamination; Savannah River Site; Fukushima; soil; water

Citation Formats

Santschi, Peter H., Xu, Chen, Lin, Peng, Kaplan, Daniel D. I., and Yeager, C. M. Collaborative Research: Natural Organic Matter and Microbial Controls on Mobilization/Immobilization of I and Pu in Soils and Waters Affected by Radionuclide Releases in USA and Japan. United States: N. p., 2020. Web. doi:10.2172/1579739.
Santschi, Peter H., Xu, Chen, Lin, Peng, Kaplan, Daniel D. I., & Yeager, C. M. Collaborative Research: Natural Organic Matter and Microbial Controls on Mobilization/Immobilization of I and Pu in Soils and Waters Affected by Radionuclide Releases in USA and Japan. United States. https://doi.org/10.2172/1579739
Santschi, Peter H., Xu, Chen, Lin, Peng, Kaplan, Daniel D. I., and Yeager, C. M. Fri . "Collaborative Research: Natural Organic Matter and Microbial Controls on Mobilization/Immobilization of I and Pu in Soils and Waters Affected by Radionuclide Releases in USA and Japan". United States. https://doi.org/10.2172/1579739. https://www.osti.gov/servlets/purl/1579739.
@article{osti_1579739,
title = {Collaborative Research: Natural Organic Matter and Microbial Controls on Mobilization/Immobilization of I and Pu in Soils and Waters Affected by Radionuclide Releases in USA and Japan},
author = {Santschi, Peter H. and Xu, Chen and Lin, Peng and Kaplan, Daniel D. I. and Yeager, C. M.},
abstractNote = {In this project, the relationship between natural organic matter (NOM) and two radioactive elements that are relevant to nuclear waste disposal were studied: Plutonium (Pu) and Iodine. The human and environmental risks associated with Pu stem mainly from the very long half-lives of several of its isotopes (238Pu, 88 yr; 239Pu, 24,100 yr; 240Pu, 6560 yr) and its radiotoxicity. Understanding Pu biogeochemical behavior in both near-field (>10-11M) and far-field scales (<10-11M) is imperative to the development of approaches for reprocessing Pu, remediation of Pu contamination and accurate assessment of risks posed by disposal practices for Pu-bearing wastes. The environmental mobility of Pu can be affected by redox potential, pH, adsorption, precipitation, complexation, colloid formation, and microbial activity, of which the first characteristic has the most profound influence. Numerous studies have shown high affinity of Pu towards NOM, as well as to mineral phases. NOM is ubiquitous in the environment, e.g., both fulvic and humic acids are able to reduce Pu(V,VI) to Pu(IV) and the redox potential of NOM is positively related to the abundance of phenolic/acidic OH groups. NOM can either facilitate or limit actinide migration, depending on specific biogeochemical conditions including pH, mineral and organic matter characteristics, etc. The other radionuclide of interest is radioiodine (129I). 129I is a major by-product of nuclear fission and of serious concern to the Department of Energy (DOE) as it is among the top risk drivers at existing and potential radiowaste-contaminated sites. The risk of 129I stems largely from its high bioconcentration factor (90% of the body’s iodine is accumulated in the thyroid), a high inventory at source terms, a very long-half life (16M years), and rapid mobility in the subsurface environment. As a consequence, 129I has the lowest drinking water standard (1 pCi/L) among all radionuclides in the Federal Register. With a novel and sensitive gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) method developed in our lab, it is possible to quickly and simultaneously determine the distribution of 129I and stable 127I forms in environments, as low as 2 pCi/L for 129I. This method was subsequently validated using accelerator mass spectroscopy, AMS. IO3- and organo-I were determined as major species in the groundwater of SRS and the Hanford Site, contrary to thermodynamic predictions that I- should be the dominant species at these sites. Mobility of 129I was also demonstrated to depend greatly on the I species and its concentration, sediment pH, and redox state, with times to achieve equilibrium taking up to 12 weeks. Along the groundwater pathway in the F-Area of SRS, 129I- supplied from the seepage basins was transformed to 129IO3- and organo-129I with increasing iodine sediment sorption, causing the lower total 127I and 129I concentrations along the gradient transect of the waste plume. By contrast, groundwater 129I concentrations in the wetlands (as high as 1617.3 pCi/L) were greatly elevated with respect to the source term (159.3 pCi/L). While the NOM promoted the uptake of 129I to the wetland sediment, it also promoted the formation of soluble organic fraction. A small fraction of NOM that is bound to iodine can behave as a mobile organo-I source. Iodide was enzymatically incorporated into NOM, whereas both iodide and iodate were abiotically bound to NOM, under certain conditions. Iodate removal from the mobile aqueous phase can also occur through incorporation into carbonate (e.g., at the Hanford Site, USA). Thus immobilization and re-mobilization of iodine species were influenced by pH, Eh and the presence of NOM and metal oxides, which adds to the complexity of site remediation action. A ground-breaking result was to elucidate the products (i.e. organo-iodine moieties formed via enzymatic and non-enzymatic processes) at the molecular level by nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and electrospray ionization Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometry (ESI-FTICRMS). We found that iodine-NOM interactions may be influenced by NOM hydrophobic aliphatic moieties. From the perspective of ESI-FTICRMS, organo-iodine formulas were ascribed to the groups of unsaturated hydrocarbons, lignins and proteins. Iodate is likely abiotically reduced to reactive iodine species by lignin- and tannin-like compounds or carboxylic-rich alicyclic molecules (CRAM). We also investigated microbial mechanisms in iodine incorporation into NOM. We established that soil bacteria isolated from F-Area of SRS did not accumulate significant amounts of I- (0.2-2%). Intracellular uptake of I- decreases with increasing pH when pH ranged from 4 to 6. In contrast, 44 out of 84 strains isolated from the F-Area of SRS can transform I- to IO3- and organo-iodine. In some cases, oxidation was facilitated in the presence of H2O2. Microbes can also excrete organic acids that enhance I- oxidation by lowering the ambient pH and reacting with H2O2 to form peroxy carboxylic acids. At lower pH values (≤5), H2O2 hydrolysis was the driving force for iodide-oxidation; whereas, at pH ≥ 6, spontaneous decomposition of peroxy carboxylic acids, originating from H2O2 and organic acids were the primary cause of iodide oxidation. Lastly, it was determined that microbial processes involved in Mn (II) are capable of directly oxidizing I- via enzymatic catalysis (i.e., multicopper oxidases), or indirectly through the formation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and/or biogenic manganese oxides. ROS-mediated oxidation of I- was found to predominate at pH >5, whereas the enzymatic and Mn oxide pathways were more active at pH < 5. Together, this project has resulted in 9 publications in high-impact journals, and the training of 1 Ph.D and 4 undergraduate students.},
doi = {10.2172/1579739},
url = {https://www.osti.gov/biblio/1579739}, journal = {},
number = ,
volume = ,
place = {United States},
year = {2020},
month = {4}
}

Works referenced in this record:

Biogenic Manganese Oxides Facilitate Iodide Oxidation at pH ≤ 5
journal, December 2017


Nagasaki sediments reveal that long-term fate of plutonium is controlled by select organic matter moieties
journal, August 2019


Unique Organic Matter and Microbial Properties in the Rhizosphere of a Wetland Soil
journal, April 2016


Iodine and plutonium association with natural organic matter: A review of recent advances
journal, October 2017


Substructural Components of Organic Colloids from a Pu-Polluted Soil with Implications for Pu Mobilization
journal, April 2017