Size-fractionated plutonium isotopes in a coastal environment. Academic Article uri icon


  • We have examined the distribution of individual Pu isotopes (239Pu, 240Pu, and 241Pu) in seawater from the Gulf of Maine (GOM). Samples were size-fractionated with a 1 kD cross-flow ultrafiltration (CFF) membrane. Subfractioned samples were radiochemically purified and Pu isotopes were analyzed using a three-stage thermal ionization mass spectrometer (TIMS). To our knowledge, this is the first time that both size class and Pu isotopic data have been obtained for seawater samples. Within measurement uncertainties a single 240Pu/239Pu atom ratio of 0.18 was found for all sample collection depths and sample size fractions. This signifies a current, single Pu source in GOM waters, namely global fallout, and suggests that no measurable isotopic fractionation occurred during CFF processing. The majority of Pu was found in the low molecular weight fraction (< 1 kD). Colloidal Pu varied from 8% of the total in surface waters to < 1% in the deepest (250 m) seawater sample. Evidence suggests that the vertical distribution of Pu in GOM is primarily controlled by conservative mixing processes. The high Pu fraction found in the low molecular size fraction implies that most of the Pu is in the non-particle-reactive oxidized fraction, and is consistent with the conservative Pu behavior. The activity levels are in agreement with other studies which show a slow decrease in Pu with time due to continued mixing and relatively slow particle removal.

publication date

  • 2001