Downward migration of Chernobyl-derived radionuclides in soils in Poland and Sweden

Gerald Matisoff, Michael E. Ketterer, Klas Rosén, Jerzy W. Mietelski, Lauren F. Vitko, Henning Persson, Edyta Lokas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


Vertical profiles of 137Cs and 239,240Pu were measured in soils collected from two sites in southern Sweden and three sites in southern Poland and were modeled using both a solute transport model and a bioturbation model to better understand their downward migration. A time series of measured 137Cs profiles indicates that 137Cs from Chernobyl was found at the soil surface in 1986 but it has migrated progressively downward into the soil 4.5-25.5cm since. However, because of dispersion during the migration and mixing following Chernobyl deposition and the much higher activities of 137Cs from Chernobyl, stratospheric fallout of 137Cs from the 1960s cannot be identified as a second 137Cs activity maximum lower in the soil column at any of the sites. Conversely, the 240Pu/239Pu ratio indicates that no Chernobyl-derived Pu is present in any of the cores with the exception of one sample in Sweden. This difference may be attributed to the nature of the release from Chernobyl. Cesium volatilized at the reactor temperature during the accident, and was released as a vapor whereas Pu was not volatile and was only released in the form of minute fuel particles that traveled regionally. Both the solute diffusion and the bioturbation models accurately simulate the downward migration of the radionuclides at some sites but poorly describe the distributions at other sites. The distribution coefficients required by the solute transport model are about 100 times lower than reported values from the literature indicating that even though the solute transport model can simulate the profile shapes, transport as a solute is not the primary mechanism governing the downward migration of either Cs or Pu. The bioturbation model uses reported values from the literature of the distribution coefficients and can simulate the downward migration because that model buries the fallout by placing soil from depth on top and mixing it slightly throughout the mixing zone (0.6-2% per year of mixing). However, mixing in that model predicts concentrations in the top parts of the soil profiles which are too high in many cases. Future progress at understanding the downward migration of radionuclides and other tracers will require a more comprehensive approach, combining solute transport with bioturbation and including other important soil processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)105-115
Number of pages11
JournalApplied Geochemistry
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Pollution
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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