- Consequences of hydrological events on the delivery of suspended sediment and associated radionuclides from the Rhne River to the Mediterranean Sea doi link

Auteur(s): Eyrolle Frederique, RADAKOVITCH Olivier, Raimbault P., Charmasson Sabine, Antonelli Christelle, Ferrand Emmanuelle, Aubert Dominique, Raccasi Guillaume, Jacquet S., Gurriaran Rodolfo

(Article) Publié: Journal Of Soils And Sediments, vol. 12 p.1479-1495 (2012)

Ref HAL: hal-01426193_v1
DOI: 10.1007/s11368-012-0575-0
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Almost 20 nuclear reactors are situated along the Rhne valley, representing Europe's largest concentration of nuclear power plants. The fate of suspended sediments and natural and artificial particle-bound radionuclides in relation to extreme hydrological events was assessed at the lower course of the Rhne River, which provides the main source of water and sediment inputs to the northwestern Mediterranean Sea. We sampled water at a high frequency over the period 2001-2008 and measured suspended particulate matter (SPM) loads and particle-bound natural and artificial radionuclide concentrations at the SORA observatory station in Arles, France. We monitored various hydrological events (either natural or anthropogenic origin) and characterize their influence on concentrations and fluxes. The relationship between SPM concentration and the very wide range of water discharges did not differ significantly from previous periods, indicating no significant shift in the average sediment delivery over the last 20 years. Unexpected hydrological events of anthropogenic origin, in particular those associated with flushing of reservoirs that are generally not captured by sampling strategies, were recorded and were shown to transfer significant additional sediment and associated contaminants towards the marine environment. Concentrations of anthropogenic radionuclides associated with sediment (i.e., Cs-137, Co-60, Mn-54, Ag-110m, and Pu isotopes) varied over two to three orders of magnitude during periods of low and moderate flow due to variations in the liquid release from nuclear facilities. Except for Pu isotopes, the concentrations of the various particle-bound radionuclides generally showed a decreasing trend with increasing discharge, revealing the geochemical or anthropogenic background values, and providing a useful flood fingerprint for this large fluvial system before its entry into the marine environment. Our approach produced key data on the level and fate of suspended solids and radionuclide concentrations during flood events occurring in a large river system that could be contaminated by chronic or accidental radioactive releases. These results are of fundamental importance for further interpretations of sediment dynamics at the river mouth.