Quantitative understanding of uranium transport by high temperature fluids is crucial for confident assessment of its migration in a number of natural and artificially induced contexts, such as hydrothermal uranium ore deposits and nuclear waste stored in geological repositories. An additional recent and atypical context would be the seawater inundated fuel of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Given its wide applicability, understanding uranium transport will be useful regardless of whether nuclear power finds increased or decreased adoption in the future. The amount of uranium that can be carried by geofluids is enhanced by the formation of complexes with inorganic ligands. Carbonate has long been touted as a critical transporting ligand for uranium in both ore deposit and waste repository contexts. However, this paradigm has only been supported by experiments conducted at ambient conditions. We have experimentally evaluated the ability of carbonate-bearing fluids to dissolve (and therefore transport) uranium at high temperature, and discovered that in fact, at temperatures above 100 °C, carbonate becomes almost completely irrelevant as a transporting ligand. This demands a re-evaluation of a number of hydrothermal uranium transport models, as carbonate can no longer be considered key to the formation of uranium ore deposits or as an enabler of uranium transport from nuclear waste repositories at elevated temperatures.


Physics, Astronomy, and Materials Science

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Communications Chemistry