The transport of adsorbing and complexing metal ions in porous media was investigated with a series of batch and column experiments and with reactive solute transport modeling. Pulses of solutions containing U(VI) were pumped through columns filled with quartz grains, and the breakthrough of U(VI) was studied as a function of variable solution composition (pH, total U(VI) concentration, total fluoride concentration, and pH-buffering capacity). Decreasing p H and the formation of nonadsorbing aqueous complexes with fluoride increased U(VI) mobility. A transport simulation with surface complexation model (SCM) parameters estimated from batch experiments was able to predict U(VI) retardation in the column experiments within 30%. SCM parameters were also estimated directly from transport data, using the results of three column experiments collected at different pH and U(VI) pulse concentrations. SCM formulations of varying complexity (multiple surface types and reaction stoichiometries) were tested to examine the trade-off between model simplicity and goodness of fit to breakthrough. A two-site model (weak- and strong-binding sites) with three surface complexation reactions fit these transport data well. With this reaction set the model was able to predict (1) the effects of fluoride complexation on U(VI) retardation at two different pH values and (2) the effects of temporal variability of pH on U(VI) transport caused by low p H buffering. The results illustrate the utility of the SCM approach in modeling the transport of adsorbing inorganic solutes under variable chemical conditions.
Additional publication details
Experimental investigation and modeling of uranium (VI) transport under variable chemical conditions