Common Treatment Technologies for Radionuclides in Soil, Sediment, and Sludge
Unlike organic contaminants (and similar to metals), radionuclides cannot be destroyed or degraded; therefore, remediation technologies applicable to radionuclides involve separation, concentration/volume reduction, and/or immobilization. The most commonly used treatment technology for radionuclides in soil, sediment, and sludge is solidification/stabilization (S/S). This treatment technology is described briefly below.
Solidification processes produce monolithic blocks of waste with high structural integrity. The radionuclides do not necessarily interact chemically with the solidification reagents (typically cement/ash) but are mechanically locked within the solidified matrix. Stabilization methods usually involve the addition of chemical binders, such as cement, silicates, or pozzolans, which limit the solubility or mobility of waste constituents even though the physical handling characteristics of the waste may not be changed or improved. Solidification/stabilization of radionuclides can be conducted either in situ or ex situ. In situ S/S techniques are now considered innovative and are discussed in Section 4.
There are many innovations in the stabilization and solidification technology. Most of the innovations are modifications of proven processes and are directed to encapsulation or immobilizing the harmful constituents and involve processing of the waste or radionuclides. Some distinct innovative processes include: radioactive waste solidification and vitrification/molten glass.
In radioactive waste solidification (Grouting/Other) treatment, solidification additives are used to form a uniform and stable matrix to encapsulate radioactive waste materials. Assemblies include pumps for liquids or slurries, conveyors for sludges or solids, storage silos, weigh feeders, piping, mixers and disposal or storage.
Vitrification, or molten glass, processes are solidification methods that employ heat up to 1,200° C to melt and convert waste materials into glass or other glass and crystalline products. The high temperatures destroy any organic constituents with very few byproducts. Materials, such as heavy metals and radionuclides, are actually incorporated into the glass structure which is, generally, a relatively strong, durable material that is resistant to leaching. In addition to solids, the waste materials can be liquids, wet or dry sludges, or combustible materials. Borosilicate and soda-lime are the principal glass formers and provide the basic matrix of the vitrified product.
Excavation, retrieval, and off-site disposal of contaminated soil (with or without stabilization) to a landfill have been performed previously at many sites. Landfilling of radionuclides is becoming increasingly difficult and expensive as a result of growing regulatory control, and may be cost-prohibitive for sites with large volumes, greater depths, or complex hydrogeologic environments. Determining the feasibility of off-site disposal requires knowledge of land disposal restrictions and other regulations developed by state governments.