Aiming at an assessment of counteractive effects on colloid-borne migration of actinides in the event of release from an underground repository, competition by Fe(III) in respect of metal complexation by dissolved organic matter was investigated for the example of Eu(III) as an analogue of trivalent actinides. Complexation with different humic materials was examined in cation exchange experiments, using59Fe and152Eu as radioactive tracers for measurements in dilute systems as encountered in nature. Competitive effects proved to be significant when Fe is present at micromolar concentrations. Flocculation as a limiting process was attributed to charge compensation of humic colloids. Fe fractions bound to humic acids (HA) were higher than 90%, exceeding the capacity of binding sites at high Fe concentrations. It is thus concluded that the polynuclear structure of hydrolysed Fe(III) is maintained when bound to HA, which is also inferred from UV-Vis spectrometry. The competitive effect was found to be enhanced if Fe and HA were in contact before Eu was added. Depending on the time of Fe/HA pre-equilibration, Eu complexation decreased asymptotically over a time period of several weeks, the amount of bound Fe being unchanged. Time-dependent observations of UV-Vis spectra and pH values revealed that the ageing effect was due to a decline in Fe hydrolysis rather than structural changes within HA molecules. Fe polycations are slowly degraded in contact with humic colloids, and more binding sites are occupied as a consequence of dispersion. The extent of degradation as derived from pH shifts depended on the Fe/HA ratio. © 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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