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Modeling Reactive Transport of Strontium-90 in a Heterogeneous, Variably Saturated Subsurface

Wang, Li, Wu, Joan Q., Hull, Laurence C., Schafer, Annette L.
Vadose zone journal 2010 v.9 no.3 pp. 670-685
thickness, strontium, groundwater, polluted soils, radionuclides, soil pollution, perched water table, sodium, soil water movement, half life, chemical concentration, simulation models, aquifers, spatial variation, environmental fate, saturated conditions, vadose zone, subsurface flow, permeability, environmental monitoring, Idaho
Sodium-bearing waste (SBW) containing high concentration of ⁹⁰Sr was accidentally released to the vadose zone at the Idaho Nuclear Technology and Engineering Center, Idaho National Laboratory, Idaho Falls, ID, in 1972. To investigate the transport and fate of the ⁹⁰Sr through this 137-m-thick, heterogeneous, variably saturated subsurface, we conducted a two-dimensional numerical modeling using TOUGHREACT under different assumed scenarios (low permeability of an entire interbed or just its surface) for the formation of perched water whose presence reflects the unique characteristics of the geologic materials and stratification at the study site. The results showed that different mechanisms could lead to different flow geometries. The assumption of low permeability for the entire interbed led to the largest saturated zone area and the longest water travel time (55 vs. 43 or 44 yr in other scenarios) from the SBW leakage to the groundwater table. Simulated water travel time from different locations on the land surface to the groundwater aquifer varied from <30 to >80 yr. The results also indicated that different mechanisms may lead to differences in the peak and travel time of a small mobile fraction of Sr. The effective distribution coefficient and retardation factor for Sr²⁺ would change more than an order of magnitude for the same material during the 200-yr simulation period because of large changes in the concentrations of Sr²⁺ and competing ions. Understanding the migration rate of the mobile Sr²⁺ is necessary for designing long-term monitoring programs to detect it.