Actinides, accelerators and erosion
Department of Nuclear Physics, Research School of Physics and Engineering, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia
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Fallout isotopes can be used as artificial tracers of soil erosion and sediment accumulation. The most commonly used isotope to date has been 137Cs. Concentrations of 137Cs are, however, significantly lower in the Southern Hemisphere, and furthermore have now declined to 35% of original values due to radioactive decay. As a consequence the future utility of 137Cs is limited in Australia, with many erosion applications becoming untenable within the next 20 years, and there is a need to replace it with another tracer. Plutonium could fill this role, and has the advantages that there were six times as many atoms of Pu as of 137Cs in fallout, and any loss to decay has been negligible due to the long half-lives of the plutonium isotopes. Uranium-236 is another long-lived fallout isotope with significant potential for exploitation as a tracer of soil and sediment movement. Uranium is expected to be more mobile in soils than plutonium (or caesium), and hence the 236U/Pu ratio will vary with soil depth, and so could provide an independent measure of the amount of soil loss. In this paper we discuss accelerator based ultra-sensitive measurements of plutonium and 236U isotopes and their advantages over 137Cs as tracers of soil erosion and sediment movement.
© Owned by the authors, published by EDP Sciences, 2012