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Long-term corrosion and leaching of depleted uranium (DU) in soil

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Corrosion and leaching of depleted uranium (DU) was investigated for 3 years using six DU munitions (145–264 g DU) each buried in a column with a soil core of about 3.3 kg dry soil mass. The columns were installed in an air-conditioned laboratory. Each week they were irrigated and 238U was determined in the effluents by inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry. In addition, 235U was measured occasionally to assure that the 238U was predominantly from the DU munition. On average, 14.5 g corresponding to 7.9% of the initial DU mass was corroded after 3 years, indicating an increased corrosion as compared to the first year of observation. The leaching rates increased much stronger than the corrosion rates by factors of more than 100, resulting in a mean total amount of leached 238U of 13 mg as compared to 0.03 mg after the first year. Uranium species identified in the seepage water by time-resolved laser-induced fluorescence spectroscopy were mainly hydroxo and carbonate compounds, while those in the corroded material were phosphate compounds. It is concluded that the dramatic increase of the leaching and its large temporal variability do not allow any extrapolation for the future. However, the high 238U concentrations observed in the seepage water highlight the need for further investigations on the transport of 238U through soil, in particular with regard to the potential future 238U contamination of groundwater in areas affected by DU weapons.

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The authors gratefully acknowledge the identification of the fern species by F. Schuhwerk and the stimulating discussions with K. Bunzl.

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Correspondence to W. Schimmack.

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Schimmack, W., Gerstmann, U., Schultz, W. et al. Long-term corrosion and leaching of depleted uranium (DU) in soil. Radiat Environ Biophys 46, 221–227 (2007).

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