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Spatial and temporal variations of plutonium isotopes (238Pu and 239,240Pu) in sediments off the Rhone River mouth (NW Mediterranean)



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Titre de la revue : Science of the Total Environment Volume : 376 N° : 1-3 Pagination : 215-227 Date de publication : 15/04/2007


The dispersion and fate of the Rhone River inputs to the Gulf of Lions (Northwestern Mediterranean Sea) have been studied through the spatial and temporal distributions of plutonium isotopes in continental shelf sediments. Plutonium isotopes (238Pu and 239,240Pu) are appropriate tracers to follow the dispersion of particulate matter due both to their high affinity for particles and their long half-lives. In the Rhone River valley, plutonium isotopes originate from both the weathering of the catchment basin contaminated by global atmospheric fallout, and the liquid effluents released from the Marcoule reprocessing plant since 1961. This work presents a first detailed study on 238Pu and 239,240Pu distributions in sediments from the Rhone prodelta to the adjacent continental shelf, since the decommissioning of Marcoule in 1997. The vertical distribution of Pu isotopes has been analysed in a 4.75 m long core sampled in 2001 at the Rhone mouth. Despite this length, plutonium is found at the last 10 cm, manifesting the high sedimentation rate of the prodeltaic area and its ability for trapping fine-grained sediments and associated contaminants. The highest 238Pu and 239,240Pu concentrations reached 1.26 and 5.97 Bq kg− 1 respectively and were found within the layer 280–290 cm. The 238Pu/239,240Pu activity ratios (AR) demonstrated an efficient and huge trapping of the Pu isotopes derived from Marcoule. The fresh sediments, located on the top of the core, show lower plutonium activity concentrations and lower 238Pu/239,240Pu ratios. This decrease is in close relation with the shut down of theMarcoule reprocessing plant in 1997. In 2001, plutonium isotopes were also analysed in 21 surface sediments located offshore and concentrations ranged from 0.03 to 0.17 Bq kg−1 for 238Pu and from 0.33 to 1.72 Bq kg−1 for 239,240Pu. The 238Pu/239,240Pu AR ranged from 0.24 close to the river mouth to 0.06 southwards, indicating the decreasing influence of the Marcoule releases (global fallout AR 0.03–0.05 and Marcoule AR 0.30). This is in good agreement with the main direction spread of the Rhone River plume and the bottom current. This dataset has been compared to those obtained in the same area in 1984 and 1990 in order to follow the time trend in Pu concentrations. This comparison highlights the decrease with time in plutonium concentrations close to the Rhone River mouth, but further away this reduction is not so evident.