Water structure and aqueous uranyl(VI) adsorption equilibria onto external surfaces of beidellite, montmorillonite, and pyrophyllite: Results from molecular simulations

JA Greathouse and RT Cygan, ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY, 40, 3865-3871 (2006).

DOI: 10.1021/es052522q

Molecular dynamics simulations were performed to provide a systematic study of aqueous uranyl adsorption onto the external surface of 2: 1 dioctahedral clays. Our understanding of this key process is critical in predicting the fate of radioactive contaminants in natural groundwaters. These simulations provide atomistic detail to help explain experimental trends in uranyl adsorption onto natural media containing smectite clays. Aqueous uranyl concentrations ranged from 0.027 to 0.162 M. Sodium ions and carbonate ions ( 0.027-0.243 M) were also present in the aqueous regions to more faithfully model a stream of uranyl-containing groundwater contacting a mineral system comprised of Na-smectite. No adsorption occurred near the pyrophyllite surface, and there was little difference in uranyl adsorption onto the beidellite and montmorillonite, despite the difference in location of clay layer charge between the two. At low uranyl concentration, the pentaaquouranyl complex dominates in solution and readily adsorbs to the clay basal plane. At higher uranyl ( and carbonate) concentrations, the mono( carbonato) complex forms in solution, and uranyl adsorption decreases. Sodium adsorption onto beidellite occurred both as inner- and outer-sphere surface complexes, again with little effect on uranyl adsorption. Uranyl surface complexes consisted primarily of the pentaaquo cation ( 85%) and to a lesser extent the mono( carbonato) species ( 15%). Speciation diagrams of the aqueous region indicate that the mono( carbonato) uranyl complex is abundant at high ionic strength. Oligomeric uranyl complexes are observed at high ionic strength, particularly near the pyrophyllite and montmorillonite surfaces. Atomic density profiles of water oxygen and hydrogen atoms are nearly identical near the beidellite and montmorillonite surfaces. Water structure therefore appears to be governed by the presence of adsorbed ions and not by the location of layer charge associated with the substrate. The water oxygen density near the pyrophyllite surface is similar to the other cases, but the hydrogen density profile indicates reduced hydrogen bonding between adsorbed water molecules and the surface.

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