Molybdenum isotope fractionation during acid leaching of a granitic uranium ore

Abstract : As an attempt to prevent illicit trafficking of nuclear materials, it is critical to identify the origin and transformation of uranium materials from the nuclear fuel cycle based on chemical and isotope tracers. The potential of molybdenum (Mo) isotopes as tracers is considered in this study. We focused on leaching, the first industrial process used to release uranium from ores, which is also known to extract Mo depending on chemical conditions. Batch experiments were performed in the laboratory with pH ranging from 0.3 to 5.5 in sulfuric acid. In order to span a large range in uranium and molybdenum yields, oxidizers such as nitric acid, hydrogen peroxide and manganese dioxide were also added. An enrichment in heavy Mo isotopes is produced in the solution during leaching of a granitic uranium ore, when Mo recovery is not quantitative. At least two Mo reservoirs were identified in the ore: similar to 40% as Mo oxides soluble in water or sulfuric acid, and similar to 40% of Mo hosted in sulfides soluble in nitric acid or hydrogen peroxide. At pH \textgreater 1.8, adsorption and/or precipitation processes induce a decrease in Mo yields with time correlated with large Mo isotope fractionations. Quantitative models were used to evaluate the relative importance of the processes involved in Mo isotope fractionation: dissolution, adsorption, desorption, precipitation, polymerization and depolymerization. Model best fits are obtained when combining the effects of dissolution/precipitation, and adsorption/desorption onto secondary minerals. These processes are inferred to produce an equilibrium isotope fractionation, with an enrichment in heavy Mo isotopes in the liquid phase and in light isotopes in the solid phase. Quantification of Mo isotope fractionation resulting from uranium leaching is thus a promising tool to trace the origin and transformation of nuclear materials. Our observations of Mo leaching are also consistent with observations of natural Mo isotope fractionation taking place during chemical weathering in terrestrial environments where the role of secondary processes such as adsorption is significant. (C) 2018 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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Valerie Migeon, Bernard Bourdon, Eric Pili, Caroline Fitoussi. Molybdenum isotope fractionation during acid leaching of a granitic uranium ore. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 2018, 231, pp.30--49. ⟨10.1016/j.gca.2018.04.004⟩. ⟨hal-02326523⟩

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