Date of Award

12-2016

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Legacy Department

Environmental Engineering and Science

Committee Member

Dr. Brian Powell, Committee Chair

Committee Member

Dr. Fred J. Molz

Committee Member

Dr. Nishanth Tharayil

Abstract

Radionuclides exist within the environment naturally and also from release during nuclear power and weapons production. The ability of plants to uptake radionuclides may prove beneficial for exploitation in the field of phytoremediation and as a biomonitor within the field of nuclear forensics. The fact that plants have the ability to take up radionuclides as an unintended metabolic process is well known, however, the mechanisms through which uptake occur present large gaps within the current research. Therefore, gaining further knowledge regarding overall plant radionuclide uptake and specific mechanisms may prove as an invaluable tool to enhance phytoremediation and nuclear forensic efforts. Within this work, controlled laboratory experiments were conducted in order to determine any uptake differences between graminaceous (rye grass) and nongraminaceous (cucumber) plants. A matrix of samples were individually spiked with known amounts of Sr, Cs, Th, U as well as ligands of acetate, citrate, DFOB. Uptake was compared through the calculation and analysis of distribution coefficients within the roots and shoots of each plant sample. A variety of trends were observed throughout this study. Overall, it was determined that the cucumber plant takes up slightly higher concentrations within both the roots and the shoots, except for within the Cs set of samples. Within the Cs samples it was determined that uptake was much higher in the rye grass than in the cucumber plant. Therefore, it was concluded that it may be more beneficial to focus on the collection of grasses and other graminaceous plants when the goal is to collect a plant to determine nuclear activity within the vicinity of a facility. This is due to the fact that Cs is generally released at higher concentrations than other radionuclides during the process of nuclear power and energy production. Similarly, grasses may also be desired as the main focus for phytoremediation efforts due to the fact that Cs is a common waste product from both nuclear accidents and nuclear power production. Further research is still required to fully understand specific mechanisms involved in plant radionuclide uptake.

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