Reversibility of radiocaesium sorption on illite

A. de Koning, R.N.J. Comans

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Adsorption of trace amounts of radiocaesium on NH4-, K-, and Na-saturated Fithian illite and subsequent desorption by 1 M NH4 showed that a substantial amount of radiocaesium (44%, 46%, and 91% for NH4-, K-, and Na-illite, respectively) cannot be desorbed after only 5 min of adsorption. Our results suggest that this instantaneous fixation is caused by the collapse of the frayed edges of the clay mineral and the relatively high concentration of radiocaesium building up in solution in the batch desorption experiments. Consequently, commonly applied high-NH4 extractions underestimate truly exchangeable amounts of radiocaesium in soils and sediments containing illitic clay minerals. The rate of desorption of trace amounts of radiocaesium from the solids using high NH4 or Cs concentrations has a half-life of about 2 yr, reflecting radiocaesium desorption from (partially) collapsed interlayers. Extraction of radiocaesium from illite after 5 min of contact time with a Cs-selective adsorbent or a 1 × 10-6 M CsCl solution shows that 100% of the bound radiocaesium is readily available. The desorption rate in the presence of a Cs-selective adsorbent has a half-life of about 0.2 yr. Desorption of radiocaesium from illite using different ammonium concentrations shows that radiocaesium partitioning follows reversible ion-exchange theory if the NH4 concentration is below 1 × 10-4 M, and sufficient time (weeks) is allowed for the reaction to proceed. Thus, radiocaesium sorption reversibility in the natural environment is much higher than generally assumed, and equilibrium solid/liquid partitioning may be assumed for the long-term modelling of radiocaesium mobility in the natural environment. In the particular case of anoxic freshwater sediments with very high NH4 concentrations in the pore waters (up to several mmol.L-1), collapse of the frayed edges of illite may occur, influencing radiocaesium partitioning. If collapse occurs before radiocaesium adsorbs to illite, high caesium sorption reversibility as measured by high-NH4 extraction can be expected because further collapse of the frayed edges during the extraction procedure will be limited. This effect has indeed been observed earlier in the extraction of radiocaesium from anoxic freshwater sediments with high-NH4 solutions and was as yet unexplained
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2815-2823
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Issue number13
Publication statusPublished - 2004


  • fresh-water sediments
  • cesium sorption
  • organic soils
  • clay-minerals
  • fixation
  • chernobyl
  • cs-137
  • mobilization
  • coefficients
  • temperature

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