Behaviour of radionuclides in the presence of superplasticiser

Superplasticisers improve the flow properties of fresh cement and offer undoubted benefits to the construction sector. There is concern in the nuclear industry, however, that the presence of a superplasticiser in grout or backfill cement may increase the solubility of radionuclides in the cementitious pore water and/or reduce their adsorption from solution. This paper describes the effect of a commercial, polycarboxylated, polyether comb type superplasticiser on the behaviour of selected metals in blended cements through a series of batch and monolith leach experiments. Results of batch experiments show that the presence of free superplasticiser in solution reduces uptake of nickel (63Ni) and europium (152Eu) by both blast-furnace-slag- and pulverised-fly-ash-modified ordinary Portland cement. Further, metal bound in the presence of free superplasticiser is readily remobilised on exposure to fresh cement solution. Conversely, metal uptake is almost complete and appears irreversible when exposed to hardened cements prepared with superplasticiser as part of the original mix. Monolithic slag cement samples prepared with superplasticiser suffer from bleed, with the surplus water containing a significant proportion of the metals added, including uranium and thorium. Digital autoradiography reveals heterogeneous distribution of radioactivity in the monoliths and demonstrates that the dissolved metals have not been effectively immobilised throughout the specimen. The mobility of thorium may indicate similar behaviour by other tetravalent actinide species, notably Pu(IV) and Np(IV).