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Decontamination of Uranium-Contaminated Steel Surfaces by Hydroxycarboxylic Acid with Uranium Recovery

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journal contribution
posted on 2005-07-01, 00:00 authored by J. Francis, C. J. Dodge, J. A. McDonald, G. P. Halada
We developed a simple, safe method to remove uranium from contaminated metallic surfaces so that the materials can be recycled or disposed of as low-level radioactive or nonradioactive waste. Surface analysis of rusted uranium-contaminated plain carbon-steel coupons by X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy and Rutherford backscattering spectroscopy showed that uranium was predominantly associated with ferrihydrite, lepidocrocite, and magnetite, or occluded in the matrix of the corrosion product as uranyl hydroxide and schoepite (UO3·2H2O). Citric acid formulations, consisting of oxalic acid−hydrogen peroxide−citric acid (OPC) or citric acid−hydrogen peroxide−citric acid (CPC), were used to remove uranium from the coupons. The efficiency of uranium removal varied from 68% to 94% depending on the extent of corrosion, the association of uranium with the iron oxide matrix, and the accessibility of the occluded contaminant. Decontaminated coupons clearly showed evidence of the extensive removal of rust and uranium. The waste solutions containing uranium and iron from decontamination by OPC and CPC were treated first by subjecting them to biodegradation followed by photodegradation. Biodegradation of a CPC solution by Pseudomonas fluorescens resulted in the degradation of the citric acid with concomitant precipitation of Fe (>96%), whereas U that remained in solution was recovered (>99%) by photodegradation as schoepite. In contrast, in an OPC solution citric acid was biodegraded but not oxalic acid, and both Fe and U remained in solution. Photodegradation of this OPC solution resulted in the precipitation of iron as ferrihydrite and uranium as uranyl hydroxide.