ABSTRACT: New data are reported on the concentrations, isotopic composition and speciation of americium, plutonium and uranium in surface and ground waters in the Sarzhal region of the Semipalatinsk Test Site, and an adjacent area including the settlement of Sarzhal. The data relate to filtered water and suspended particulate from (a) streams originating in the Degelen Mountains, (b) the Tel'kem 1 and Tel'kem 2 atomic craters, and (c) wells on farms located within the study area and at Sarzhal. The measurements show that (241)Am, (239,240)Pu and (238)U concentrations in well waters within the study area are in the range 0.04-87mBq dm(-3), 0.7-99mBq dm(-3), and 74-213mBq dm(-3), respectively, and for (241)Am and (239,240)Pu are elevated above the levels expected solely on the basis of global fallout. Concentrations in streams sourced in the Degelen Mountains are similar, while concentrations in the two water-filled atomic craters are somewhat higher. Suspended particulate concentrations in well waters vary considerably, though median values are very low, at 0.01mBq dm(-3), 0.08mBq dm(-3) and 0.32mBq dm(-3) for (241)Am, (239,240)Pu and (238)U, respectively. The (235)U/(238)U isotopic ratio in almost all well and stream waters is slightly elevated above the 'best estimate' value for natural uranium worldwide, suggesting that some of the uranium in these waters is of test-site provenance. Redox analysis shows that on average most of the plutonium present in the microfiltered fraction of these waters is in a chemically reduced form (mean 69%; 95% confidence interval 53-85%). In the case of the atomic craters, the proportion is even higher. As expected, all of the americium present appears to be in a reduced form. Calculations suggest that annual committed effective doses to individual adults arising from the daily ingestion of these well waters are in the range 11-42microSv (mean 21microSv). Presently, the ground water feeding these wells would not appear to be contaminated with radioactivity from past underground testing in the Degelen Mountains or from the Tel'kem explosions.
Journal of environmental radioactivity 03/2009; 100(4):308-14. · 1.47 Impact Factor