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The distribution of uranium over Europe: Geological and environmental significance

January 1, 2003

The variation of baseline levels of uranium in soil and stream sediments over Europe is described, based on new data prepared by the Forum of European Geological Surveys (FOREGS). The samples have been collected and analysed according to the protocols established for the International Union of Geological Sciences/International Association of Geochemistry and Cosmochemistry (IUGS/IAGC) Working Group on Global Geochemical Baselines. The baseline levels of U vary between 0??21 to 53 mg kg-1 in topsoils, 0??19 to 30 mg kg-1 in subsoils and < 1 to 59 mg kg-1 in stream sediments. There is generally good agreement between the levels of U in the three sample types, and the median concentration in all three media is approximately 2 mg kg-1. The most anomalous baseline levels occur over the Variscan orogen, especially areas into which late post-orogenic radiothermal high heat production (HHP) granites were emplaced. Spiderdiagrams based on trace element levels and rare earth element (REE) plots, confirm the association between the highest U anomalies and evolved radiothermal granites. High values are also associated with parts of the Alpine terrain especially in Slovenia, where there are historical U workings, and Southern Italy, where high values of U reflect contemporary volcanism. In contrast, much of the Caledonides of North West Europe and the Precambrian of the Baltic Shield and East European craton and its overlying sedimentary cover have very low values, generally < 4 mg kg-1. The results suggest that the main concern for the environment and human health from U, and the Th and K with which it is generally associated, is the naturally occurring total gamma radiation and radon potential associated with radiothermal granites. This is likely to be especially important where the granites are mineralised and have been worked historically, for example in the North West of the Iberian Peninsula where U and its decay products are likely to be more dispersed in the surface environment. The study also indicates the value of multi-element data in distinguishing between anthropogenic and naturally occurring anomalies.

Publication Year 2003
Title The distribution of uranium over Europe: Geological and environmental significance
DOI 10.1179/037174503225003152
Authors J.A. Plant, S. Reeder, R. Salminen, D. B. Smith, T. Tarvainen, B. de Vivo, M.G. Petterson
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Transactions of the Institution of Mining and Metallurgy, Section B: Applied Earth Science
Index ID 70025256
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse