Oxidation-state distribution of plutonium in surface and subsurface waters at Thule, northwest Greenland

C.A. McMahon, L.L. Vintró, P.I. Mitchell, H. Dahlgaard

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    The speciation of plutonium in Arctic waters sampled on the northwest Greenland shelf in August 1997 is discussed in this paper. Specifically, we report the results of analyses carried out on seawater sampled (a) close to the Thule air base where, in 1968, a US military aircraft carrying four nuclear weapons crashed on sea ice, releasing kilogram quantities of plutonium to the snow pack and underlying seabed sediments, and (b) at a reference station (Upernavik) located similar to 400 km to the south. The data show that most of the plutonium in the dissolved phase at Thule is in the form of Pu(V, VI) (mean, 68 +/- 6%; n = 6), with little if any distinction apparent between surface and bottom waters. Further, the oxidation state distribution at stations close to the accident site is similar to that measured at Upernavik, remote from this site. It is also similar to the distribution observed in shelf waters at midlatitudes, suggesting that the underlying processes controlling plutonium speciation are insensitive to temperature over the range 0-25 degrees C. Measurements using tangential-flow ultrafiltration indicate that virtually all of the plutonium (including the fraction in a reduced chemical form) is present as fully dissolved species. Most of this plutonium would seem to be of weapons fallout origin, as the mean Pu-238/Pu-239,Pu-240 activity ratio in the water column (dissolved phase) at Thule (0.06 +/- 0.02; n = 10) is similar to the global fallout ratio at this latitude (approximate to 0.04). Thus, there is little evidence of weapons-grade plutonium in the water column at Thule at the present time. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalApplied Radiation and Isotopes
    Issue number3
    Pages (from-to)697-703
    Publication statusPublished - 2000


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