Contaminated soils form a large part of the nuclear waste arising from decommissioning activities. The storage and disposal of these large volumes of waste is costly. For this reason techniques which can decontaminate this waste stream to free release levels are economically very interesting. A feasibility study of the possibilities of soil washing to decontaminate such soils was ordered by NIRAS/ONDRAF and performed at Belgoprocess in collaboration with DEC. Initial contamination level and particle size distributions of contaminated soils from three different sources were determined. The main isotopes detected with gamma spectrometry contained in the waste were 241Am, 137Cs, 226Ra, 60Co and 232Th. The particle size distribution revealed that more than half of the mass of the quartz sand that makes up the soil has a particle size between 125 and 212μm. This fraction is less contaminated than the fractions containing smaller particles. However, separation of the fines fraction (< 125 μm) was not enough to achieve the free release limit. Soil attrition was tested as an extra decontamination step for the sand fraction. The removal efficiencies for the different radionuclides contained in the soil were measured. The process conditions were optimized to achieve maximum removal and a treatment method for the secondary waste coming from this process step was determined. The soil washing process was not only performed with water but also with nitric acid to assess the possibilities of a combination of a mechanical and a chemical decontamination process. Reduction efficiencies of 60–80% for the most relevant radionuclides were recorded.

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