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Cementitious material is the most commonly used encapsulation medium for low and intermediate level radioactive waste. This paper focuses on the aqueous durability of a Materials Testing Reactor (MTR) cementitious wasteform – a possible candidate for the proposed intermediate level waste management facility in Australia. A series of medium term (up to 92 months) durability tests, without leachate replacement, were conducted on samples of this wasteform.
The wasteform was made from cement, ground granulated blast furnace slag and a simulated waste liquor. The compressive strength (39 MPa) was typical of MTR cement wasteforms and well above that required for handling or storage. The wasteform was an inhomogeneous mixture containing calcite, a calcium silicate hydrate phase, hydrotalcite and unreacted slag particles. After leaching for 92 months the crystallinity of the calcium silicate hydrate phase increased.
The majority of the releases of Ca, Si, Al, Sr, S, Na and K was reached within 4 days of leaching, with the maxima ie. the highest concentrations in the leachates, occurring at 3 months for Ca, Al, Sr, S, Na and K, and at 1 month for Si. For the longer leach periods (6 months and 3 months respectively) there was a slight reduction in concentration in the leachates, and these levels were similar to those for the longest period of 92 months, suggesting steady-state conditions prevailing after 3 to 6 months of leaching. The highest releases of matrix elements were for Na (37%), K (40%) and S (16%). Releases for elements such as Ca, Na, Al and Sr were similar in magnitude to those reported by the UKAEA in earlier MTR studies.
After leaching for 92 months there was an alteration layer about 80 ∞m deep where calcium has been depleted. Na, K and Sr showed signs of diffusion towards the outer part of the cement samples.
Calcined high-level radioactive waste (HLW) stored at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) will eventually be immobilised in a suitable wasteform before disposal. A tailored glass-ceramic wasteform, produced by hot isostatic pressing in stainless steel (SS) cans, has been developed at ANSTO as a cost-saving alternative to glass which would improve waste loading and density, and reduce waste volume. We have studied the SS/wasteform interactions under HIPing conditions to understand whether such interactions would have any detrimental effect on long-term wasteform stability. This has been demonstrated by carrying out aqueous durability tests, under near-neutral and alkaline conditions, on the wasteform at the interaction layer, and on the wasteform distal to this reaction edge. Reaction during HIPing resulted in Cr diffusion from the can wall into the wasteform, however without any detectable detrimental impact on the HIP can or the aqueous durability of the wasteform.
Nd-bearing zirconolite was leached at 90°C for 157 days in 0.001M citric acid under single-pass-flow-through conditions (modified MCC-4 protocol). Three different flow rates were used, ranging in an order of magnitude from 10 mL per day to 100 mL per day, to determine the effect of the rate of leachant replenishment on the durability of the zirconolite. Results of previous studies on the role of complexing agents on the leaching behaviour of single-phase zirconolite have been included in the discussion.
The pH of the citric acid solution was adjusted to 5 using KOH, mimicking that of the water in the parallel tests, to avoid the influence of pH on chemical durability of the zirconolite.
Simulated groundwater containing 0.001M citric acid at 90°C led to congruency in elemental releases and a diminution of release rate with time of about an order of magnitude, reaching virtual constancy after about 50 to 60 days to a level of about 10−5 g m−2 day−1. The most significant finding was that the elemental release rates of Nd, Ti and Zr (and Ca and Al where detected) were similar for all flow rates. Clearly, varying flow rate by up to an order of magnitude had no effect on elemental releases i.e. there is no solubility limit control on releases at 0.001M citric acid concentration.
An important finding of previous studies using identical leaching protocols with 0.001M citric acid, and inferred in our latest investigations reported here, was that there is no secondary layer development at the surface of the zirconolite to affect leach rates. In contrast, parallel tests carried out in deionised water instead of citric acid showed that hydroxides form in situ on the zirconolite surface, effectively forming hydrolysed zirconolite. This controls further dissolution of the zirconolite matrix due to the solubility limit being reached with respect to the hydrolysed phases rather than with zirconolite. Complexation by citrate ions prevents such control by hydrolysed species on zirconolite solubility.
Even under the more aggressive conditions imposed in these studies (0.001M citric acid), and regardless of flow rate of the leachant, elemental releases from zirconolite are very low for a candidate wasteform and demonstrate its attributes as a ceramic-based wasteform for the containment of actinides.
Chemical extraction techniques and scanning electron microscopy were used to study the distribution and behavior of actinides and rare earth elements (REE) in hydrothermal veins at Adamello, (Italy). The six samples discussed in this paper were from the phlogopite zone, which is one of the major vein zones. The samples were similar in their bulk chemical composition, mineralogy, and leaching behavior of major elements (determined by extraction with 9M HCl). However, there were major differences in the extractability of REE and actinides. The most significant influence on the leaching characteristics appears to be the amounts of U, Th and REE incorporated in resistant host phases. Uranium and Th are very highly enriched in zirconolite grains. Actinides were more readily leached from samples with a higher content of U and Th, relative to the amount of zirconolite. The results show that REE and actinides present in chemically resistant minerals can be retained under aggressive leaching conditions.
Nd-bearing zirconolite was leached at 90°C for 6 months in 0.001M citric acid, and also in deionised water, to determine the effect of organic-bearing solutions on durability. The pH of the citric acid solution was adjusted to 5 using KOH, approximating that of the water in the parallel tests, to avoid the influence of pH on chemical durability of the zirconolite.
Releases were incongruent in the tests carried out in water. Release rates of Ti, Zr and Nd were comparatively very low (commonly too low to be measured) over the first 80 days of leaching. Rates for Ca and Al were 2 to 4 orders of magnitude higher than Ti, Zr and Nd over this same period. At about 80 days, there was an anomalous decrease in pH from 6 to 4 which enhanced release rates of Ti and Nd in particular. There was development of titania crystals, and the suggestion of hydrolysed titania, on the surface after 6 months. Thermodynamic equilibrium between the leachates and hydrolysed species on the surface of the zirconolite may be the key to apparent cessation of alteration, at least during thefirst 80 days of leaching.
By contrast, zirconolite leached in 0.001M citric acid maintained release rates of Ti, Zr and Nd 2 to 4 orders of magnitude greater than those in water for the first 80 days, values sustained, within an order of magnitude, for the remainder of the leach tests. Releases were congruent. The surface of the zirconolite showed no signs of secondary phase development. This suggests complexation by citrate ions prevented control by hydrolysed species on zirconolite solubility.
Polished tiles (7×7×2 mm3) of Nd-bearing zirconolite were fabricated and then some were irradiated on both large faces with 3 MeV or 2 MeV Au2+ ions (total fluence of ≥ 1 × 1015 ions/cm2) in order to render the zirconolite amorphous and so simulate displacement damage caused by alpha decay. Both the irradiated and non-irradiated tiles were then subjected to static dissolution tests in 0.01M nitric solution (pH2) at 90 C, for periods of 0–1, 1–7, 7–14 and 14–28 days. It was found that radiation damage did not affect the dissolution rate of zirconolite as indicated by the elemental leach rates of Nd, Ti, Ca and Al. The results of solution analyses are consistent with those obtained from X-ray Photoelectron Spectroscopy (XPS) in that the Ca, Nd, Ti and Al concentrations in the top surface layer (< 5 nm) all decreased with respect to that of Zr after dissolution testing, and the leached surface composition of the non-irradiated zirconolite is very similar to that of the two irradiated specimens. The implications of these results are discussed in the context of previous work.
Perovskite and zirconolite are two of the major phases of the Synroc titanate mineral assemblage. Their aqueous durability under a range of pH conditions at 90°C has been examined. Solution analysis, electron microscopy and X-ray diffraction have been used to investigate the dissolution behaviour of these phases, and a perovskite phase doped with Nd, Sr and Al, using buffered solutions at pH levels of 2.1, 3.7, 6.1, 7.9 and 12.9. After 43 days of leaching, Ca and Ti extractions from perovskite and zirconolite show only a weak pH-dependence.
SEM investigation of the samples leached at pH 2.1, 6.1 and 12.9 showed that a titanaceous surface layer formed on the perovskite specimens. XRD analysis of the perovskite samples showed that anatase formed on the leached surface at acidic and neutral pHs, but not under alkaline conditions, and that minor amounts of rutile also formed. In the leached perovskite specimens doped with Nd, Sr and Al, no rutile was found by XRD and anatase was only detected in the sample leached at pH 2.1. There were no detectable changes in the leached zirconolite samples examined by SEM and XRD.
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