The distribution and history of nuclear weapons related contamination in sediments from the Ob River, Siberia as determined by isotopic ratios of plutonium and neptunium. Academic Article uri icon


  • Isotopic ratios of Pu and Np measured in sediment cores from 5 locations in the Ob River drainage basin show clear evidence of input from sources other than global fallout (non-fallout sources). Historical contaminant records obtained by combining isotopic ratio information with chronological information indicate that non-fallout inputs are from several sources that have varied significantly over the past 50 years. Unique isotopic signatures observed in sediments from tributaries that drain areas containing known or suspected sources of non-fallout contamination are used to identify the source of materials in sediments collected at downstream locations. These data can lead to a better understanding of the transport behavior, fate, and relative importance of particle reactive, weapons related contaminants originating from the nuclear facilities Mayak. Tomsk-7, and Semipalitinsk, which lie within the drainage basin. From our work to date, we draw the following conclusions: (1) Persistent non-fallout contamination is observed in the Ob River above its confluence with the Irtysh River, indicating contamination from the Tomsk-7 facility. (2) Non-fallout contamination in the Tobol River above its confluence with the Irtysh River indicates contamination from the Mayak facility. (3) Non-fallout contamination in the Irtysh River above its confluence with the Tobol River indicates contamination from the Semipalitinsk weapons test site. (4) The occurrence of isotopic ratios in Ob Delta sediments that are similar to those observed in source tributaries suggests that contamination from at least two sources has been transported along the length of the river system. (5) Global fallout, a result of high-yield atmospheric weapons tests conducted by the FSU and USA primarily, is the dominant source of Pu and Np to the region; however, there have been brief periods when inputs from non-fallout sources exceeded those from global fallout.

publication date

  • 2002