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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Isotopic Tracking of Hanford 300 Area Derived Uranium in the Columbia River


Our objectives in this study are to quantify the discharge rate of uranium (U) to the Columbia River from the Hanford Site's 300 Area, and to follow that U down river to constrain its fate. Uranium from the Hanford Site has variable isotopic composition due to nuclear industrial processes carried out at the site. This characteristic makes it possible to use high-precision isotopic measurements of U in environmental samples to identify even trace levels of contaminant U, determine its sources, and estimate discharge rates. Our data on river water samples indicate that as much as 3.2 kg/day can enter the Columbia River from the 300 Area, which is only a small fraction of the total load of dissolved natural background U carried by the Columbia River. This very low?level of Hanford derived U can be discerned, despite dilution to <1percent of natural background U, 350 km downstream from the Hanford Site. These results indicate that isotopic methods can allow the amounts of U from the 300 Area of the Hanford Site entering the Columbia River to be measured accurately to ascertain whether they are an environmental concern, or are insignificant relative to natural uranium background in the Columbia River.

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