Between 1944 and 1989, 54.5 metric tons of the United States´ weapons-grade plutonium and an additional 12.9 metric tons of fuels-grade plutonium were produced in and separated from irradiated uranium metal fuel at the Hanford Site. Acidic high-activity wastes containing around 600 kg of plutonium were made alkaline and discharged to underground storage tanks from separations, isolation, and recycle processes to yield average plutonium concentration of about 0.003 g/L (or ∼ 0.0002 wt. %) in the ∼ 200 million liter tank waste volume. The plutonium is largely associated with low-solubility metal hydroxide/oxide sludges where its low concentration and intimate mixture with neutron-absorbing elements (e.g., iron) are credited in nuclear criticality safety. However, concerns have been expressed that plutonium, in the form of hydrated plutonium oxide, PuO2·xH2O, could undergo sufficient crystal growth through dissolution and reprecipitation in the alkaline tank waste to potentially become separable from neutron absorbing constituents by settling or sedimentation. Thermodynamic considerations and laboratory studies of systems chemically analogous to tank waste show that the plutonium, precipitated in the alkaline tank waste by neutralization from acid solution, probably entered as 2–5-nm PuO2·xH2O crystallite particles that, because of the low concentration of the neutral Pu(IV) dissolved species and opposition from radiolytic processes, grow from that point at exceedingly slow rates.
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