Future migration: Key environmental indicators of Pu accumulation in terrestrial sediments of Queensland, Australia

J Environ Radioact. 2020 Nov;223-224:106398. doi: 10.1016/j.jenvrad.2020.106398. Epub 2020 Sep 12.


Plutonium (Pu) interactions in the environment are highly complex. Site-specific variables play an integral role in determining the chemical and physical form of Pu, and its migration, bioavailability, and immobility. This paper aims to identify the key variables that can be used to highlight regions of radioecological sensitivity and guide remediation strategies in Australia. Plutonium is present in the Australian environment as a result of global fallout and the British nuclear testing program of 1952-1958 in central and west Australia (Maralinga and Montebello islands). We report the first systematic measurements of 239+240Pu and 238Pu activity concentrations in distal (≥1000 km from test sites) catchment outlet sediments from Queensland, Australia. The average 239+240Pu activity concentration was 0.29 mBq.g -1 (n = 73 samples) with a maximum of 4.88 mBq.g -1.238Pu/239+240Pu isotope ratios identified a large range (0.02-0.29 (RSD: 74%)) which is congruent with the heterogeneous nuclear material used for the British nuclear testing programme at Maralinga and Montebello Islands. The use of a modified PCA relying on non-linear distance correlation (dCorr) provided broader insight into the impact of environmental variables on the transport and migration of Pu in this soil system. Primary key environmental indicators of Pu presence were determined to be actinide/lanthanide/heavier transition metals, elevation, electrical conductivity (EC), CaO, SiO2, SO3, landform, geomorphology, land use, and climate explaining 81.7% of the variance of the system. Overall this highlighted that trace level Pu accumulations are associated with the coarse, refractive components of Australian soils, and are more likely regulated by the climate of the region and overall soil type.

Keywords: Distance correlation; Plutonium; Principal component analysis; Sediment.

MeSH terms

  • Environmental Indicators
  • Geologic Sediments
  • Islands
  • Plutonium / analysis
  • Queensland
  • Radiation Monitoring*
  • Silicon Dioxide
  • Soil Pollutants, Radioactive / analysis


  • Soil Pollutants, Radioactive
  • Plutonium
  • Silicon Dioxide