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Corrosive Destruction of Plutonium


Corrosive Destruction and Migration of Plutonium from Drowned Radiation-Hazard Objects and its Accumulation in the Marine Environment Components

Tech Area / Field

  • FIR-FUE/Reactor Fuels and Fuel Engineering/Fission Reactors

3 Approved without Funding

Registration date

Leading Institute
VNIIEF, Russia, N. Novgorod reg., Sarov

Supporting institutes

  • A.N.Frumkin Institute of Physical Chemistry and Electrochemistry, Russia, Moscow\nKrylov Central Research Institute, Russia, St Petersburg\nInstitute of Oceanology, Russia, Moscow

Project summary

At present there are a lot of radiation-hazard objects of civilian and military purpose lying at the World Ocean floor. These are drowned nuclear submarines, nuclear powered space vehicles, containers with solid radioactive waste, etc., bearing plutonium as one of the most ecologically hazardous radionuclides. And, evidently, a number of such objects will be constantly increasing.

The only presence of plutonium in a drowned object makes it be a potentially hazardous source of dispersion and marine ecosystem contamination, thus presenting a serious danger for ecology of a given region and health of certain population groups.

In this connection, each case of destruction (drowning) of an object containing plutonium produces, as a rule, a high political response and attracts attention of the public and the governmental structures of the countries whose interests are touched in a given region of the World Ocean.

A dramatic example is provided by destruction of the two Soviet atomic submarines (ASM): K-219 ("Yanki") drowned in 1986 in Sargasso Sea and "Komsomolets" drowned in 1989 in Norwegian Sea. Political storms about these incidents have not calmed down yet, and the fortune of plutonium contained in them is the subject of the intent attention of the leading scientists in the field of oceanic radioecology in the USA, Russia, Holland, Norway, Germany, Sweden.

Also, the present-day methodological approach for estimating the radioecological state of sea regions can at best give only a general picture of contamination levels of water, bottom sediments and biota at the moment of radioecological monitoring.

However, to take effective and well-grounded organizational and technical measures on preventing plutonium release from the source and minimizing the damage for marine ecosystem and a human being, it is necessary to make an objective long-term prediction of source behavior and scale of plutonium propagation and contamination of marine environment components in case of the source seal failure.

Current data on regularities and character of plutonium behavior in the marine environment are not sufficient or of little use to solve similar prediction problems with required accuracy, as they relate mainly to investigations of the World Ocean contamination with global plutonium, the main source of which are the nuclear explosion tests conducted in 1945 through 1963.

The project proposed is the first attempt in the world practice to analyze the behavior and effect on the marine environment of plutonium, which penetrates into the World Ocean as a result of accidents, and drownings of radiation-hazard objects.

The main objective of the Project is to study in complex all the ways of plutonium migration, from physical - chemical transformations and transfer inside the object (including a physical picture of barrier layers destruction), release from the object into-environment, to hydrologic and hydrobiologic transfer and accumulation in the marine environment components.

The following tasks will be accomplished after fulfilling this Project:

- The parameters of plutonium corrosive destruction process and physical-chemical forms of its extend in sea water will be determined;
- The parameters of corrosive destruction of barrier (defensive) layers of standard radiation-hazard objects will be determined;
- The mechanisms of migration of various forms of plutonium corrosion products in the marine environment will be defined;
- The influence of heterotrophic organisms and phytoplankton (as the main link defining plutonium transfer in the trophic chain) on the trends of plutonium behavior and migration in the marine environment will be determined;
- The sorbtion characteristics of the most prominent bottom sediments and suspensions with reference to plutonium will be determined;
- The distribution coefficients of soluble and insoluble forms of plutonium will be obtained for the systems "water-suspension" and "bottom sediments-water in pores";
- The multiuse calculation model to estimate dynamics of destruction of materials of barrier layers of radiation-hazard objects will be developed;
- The database will be formed, which includes physical and chemical, hydrological and geophysical parameters required for solving the problem of plutonium release from the source, its migration and distribution in the system "water- suspension-bottom sediments" with regard to biota influence.
- The generalized prediction model will be developed, which describes dynamics of plutonium release from the source, its transfer and accumulation in the system "water-suspension-bottom sediments" with regard to the influence of biologic factor;
- The technique will be worked out and measuring data will be processed on the content of natural and technical radionuclides (including plutonium) with the aim of getting coefficients of the mathematical model;
- The program of complex hydrological and geophysical measurements and radioactivity measurements will be developed to predict plutonium behavior in the marine environment components;
- The monograph on the investigated problem will be prepared and issued.

Confirmation of laboratory research results and verification of obtained models of plutonium behavior in the marine environment are to be carried out within the frames of the programs of radiation-ecological monitoring in the region of ASM "Komsomolets" destruction, locations of radioactive waste disposal in the Kara Sea, as well as within the frames of other similar expeditionary investigations, the constant participants of which are, as a rule, this project contractors.

This project results will be the basis for objective prediction of radiation damage and taking well-grounded governmental decisions on choosing a strategy of interference when liquidating the consequences of radiation accidents taking place in the ocean and they will be also of great scientific and practical value for the development of effective system of marine radiation-ecological monitoring.

Pledge of successive accomplishment of the project is great experience of its contractors in investigating the problem of sea radioactive contamination and the effect of radioactivity onto marine ecosystem, and, primarily, the experience in the implementation of unique activities on the problem of drowned ASM "Komsomolets".

Possible role of foreign partners

When implementing the Project, the contractors are interested in cooperation with Los Alamos (LANL) and Lawrence Livermore (LLNL) National laboratories and Woodshall Institute of Oceanography (Massachusetts).

The topic of the Project proposed has been preliminary discussed at the joint american-russian scientific workshop held on 27-28 August, 1996 in LLNL, where the american party has expressed its support of scientific and technical objective of the Project and has shown the interest in its implementation.

Listed below are the following foreign collaborators interested in the project results, who agreed to participate in joint carrying out of activities, as well as in analysis and discussion of results, preparation of papers and reports and to take part in seminars and conferences:

P.O.BOX 2003, MS-7606
OAK RIDGE, TN 37831-7606
Fax: (1) 423-435-3290 Tel: (l) 423-435-3126
P.O.BOX 2003, MS-7606
OAK RIDGE, TN 37831-7606
Fax: (l) 615-435-3290 Tel: (1) 615-435-3115
Dr.Emmanuel Smailos Kernforschungszentrum Postfach 3640, 7500 Karls-Ruhe 1. Tel. (07247) 824396 Fax. (07247) 825070
Professor BURNETT William Craig Florida State University Department of Oceanography Environmental Radioactivity Measurement. Address: Tallahassee, Florida 32306-3048 U.S.A. Tel: 904-644-6703 Fax: 904-644--2581

Additional Information

The report of the Russian organization is enclosed as additional information.


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