Highly weathered mineral soils have highest transfer risk of radiocaesium contamination after a nuclear accident: A global soil-plant study

Margot Vanheukelom, Lieve Sweeck, Talal Al Mahaini, Mara De Bruyn, Pieter Steegmans, Lore Fondu, Axel Van Gompel, May Van Hees, Jean Wannijn, Erik Smolders

Research outputpeer-review


Accidental release of radiocaesium (137Cs) from nuclear power plants may result in long-term contamination of environmental and food production systems. Assessment of food chain contamination with 137Cs relies on 137Cs soil-to-plant transfer data and models mainly available for regions affected by the Chornobyl and Fukushima accidents. Similar data and models are lacking for other regions. Such information is needed given the global expansion of nuclear energy. We collected 38 soils worldwide of contrasting parent materials and weathering stages. The soils were spiked with 137Cs and sown with ryegrass in greenhouse conditions. The 137Cs grass-soil concentration ratio varied four orders of magnitude among soils. It was highest in Ferralsols due to the low 137Cs interception potential of kaolinite clay and the low exchangeable potassium in these soils. Our results demonstrate, for the first time, the high plant uptake of 137Cs in tropical soils. The most recent 137Cs transfer model, mainly calibrated to temperate soils dominated by weathered micas, poorly predicts the underlying processes in tropical soils but, due to compensatory effect, still reasonably well predicts 137Cs bioavailability across all soils (R2 = 0.8 on a log-log scale).
Original languageEnglish
Article number173583
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2024

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pollution
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry

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