Substratum influences uptake of radium-226 by plants

Radium-226, an alpha emitter with half-life 1600 years, is ubiquitous in natural environments. Present in rocks and soils, it is also absorbed by vegetation. The efficiency of 226Ra uptake by plants from the soil is important to assess for the study of heavy metals uptake by plants, monitoring of radioactive pollution, and the biogeochemical cycle of radium in the Critical Zone. Using a thoroughly validated measurement method of effective 226Ra concentration (ECRa) in the laboratory, we compare ECRa values of the plant to that of the closest soil, and we infer the 226Ra soil-to-plant transfer ratio, RSP, for a total of 108 plant samples collected in various locations in France. ECRa values of plants range over five orders of magnitude with mean (min–max) of 1.66 ± 0.03 (0.020–113) Bq kg−1. Inferred RSP values range over four orders of magnitude with mean (min–max) of 0.0188 ± 0.0004 (0.00069–0.37). The mean RSP value of plants in granitic and metamorphic context (0.073 ± 0.002; n = 50) is significantly higher (12 ± 1 times) than that of plants in calcareous and sedimentary context (0.0058 ± 0.0002; n = 58). This difference, which cannot be attributed to a systematic difference in emanation coefficient, is likely due to the competition between calcium and radium. In a given substratum context, the compartments of a given plant species show coherent and decreasing RSP values in the following order (acropetal gradient): roots {\textgreater} bark {\textgreater} branches and stems ≈ leaves. Oak trees (Quercus genus) concentrate 226Ra more than other trees and plants in this set. While this study clearly demonstrates the influence of substratum on the 226Ra uptake by plants in non-contaminated areas, our measurement method appears as a promising practical tool to use for (phyto)remediation and its monitoring in uranium- and radium-contaminated areas.


Substratum influences uptake of radium-226 by plants
Publication Type
Journal Article
Year of Publication
Science of The Total Environment
Date Published
Submitted on 21 October 2021