Radiocarbon (14C or carbon-14, half-life 5730 yr) is a key radionuclide in the assessment of the safety of a geological disposal facility (GDF) for radioactive waste. In particular, the radiological impact of gaseous carbon-14 bearing species has been recognized as a potential issue. Irradiated steels are one of the main sources of carbon-14 in the United Kingdom’s radioactive waste inventory. However, there is considerable uncertainty about the chemical form(s) in which the carbon-14 will be released. The objective of the work was to measure the rate and speciation of carbon-14 release from irradiated 316L(N) stainless steel on leaching under high-pH anoxic conditions, representative of a cement-based near field for low-heat generating wastes. Periodic measurements of carbon-14 releases to both the gas phase and to solution were made in duplicate experiments over a period of up to 417 days. An initial fast release of carbon-14 from the surface of the steel is observed during the first week of leaching, followed by a drop in the rate of release at longer times. Carbon-14 is released primarily to the solution phase with differing fractions released to the gas phase in the two experiments: about 1% of the total release in one and 6% in the other. The predominant dissolved carbon-14 releases are in inorganic form (as 14C-carbonate) but also include organic species. The predominant gas-phase species are hydrocarbons with a smaller fraction of 14CO (which may include some volatile oxygen-containing carbon-species). The experiments are continuing, with final sampling and termination planned after leaching for a total of two years.
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