Plutonium in wildlife and soils at the Maralinga legacy site: persistence over decadal time scales

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Elsevier Science Ltd
The mobility of plutonium (Pu) in soils, and its uptake into a range of wildlife, were examined using recent and similar to 25 year old data from the Taranaki area of the former Maralinga weapons test site, Australia. Since its initial deposition in the early 1960s, the dispersed Pu has been incorporated into the soil profile and food chain through natural processes, allowing for the study of Pu sequestration and dynamics in relatively undisturbed semi-arid conditions. The data indicate downward mobility of Pu in soil at rates of similar to 0.2-0.3 cm per year for the most mobile fraction. As a result, while all of the Pu was initially deposited on the ground surface, approximately 93% and 62% remained in the top 0-2 cm depth after 25- and 50-years respectively. No large-scale lateral spreading of the Taranaki plume was observed. Pu activity concentrations in 0-1 cm soils with biotic crusts were not elevated when compared with nearby bare soils, although a small number of individual data suggest retention of Pu-containing particles may be occurring in some biotic crusts. Soil-to-animal transfer, as measured by concentration ratios (CRwo-soil), was 4.1E-04 (Geometric Mean (GM)) in mammals, which aligns well with those from similar species and conditions (such as the Nevada Test Site, US), but are lower than the GM of the international mammal data reported in the Wildlife Transfer Database (WTD). These lower values are likely due to the presence of a low-soluble, particulate form of the Pu in Maralinga soils. Arthropod concentration ratios (3.1E-03 GM), were similar to those from Rocky Flats, US, while values for reptiles (2.0E-02 GM) were higher than the WTD GM value which was dominated by data from Chernobyl. Comparison of uptake data spanning approximately 30 years indicates no decrease over time for mammals, and a potential increase for reptiles. The results confirm the persistence of bioavailable Pu after more than 50 years since deposition, and also the presence of larger-sized particles which currently affect CRwo-soil calculations, and which may serve as an ongoing source of bioavailable Pu as they are subjected to weathering into the future. © 2014, Elsevier Ltd.
Plutonium, Mammals, Soils, Concentration ratio, Radioisotopes, Actinides
Johansen, M. P., Child, D. P., Davis, E., Doering, C., Harrison, J. J., Hotchkis, M. A. C., Payne, T. E., Thiruvoth, S., Twining, J. R., & Wood, M. D. (2014). Plutonium in wildlife and soils at the Maralinga legacy site: persistence over decadal time scales. Journal of Environmental Radioactivity, 131, 72-80. doi:10.1016/j.jenvrad.2013.10.014