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Plutonium on the Move

SCIENCE, Editors' Choice: Highlights of the recent literature,
Volume 288, Number 5466, Issue of 28 April 2000
Reprinted with permission

Several tons of plutonium have been released into the biosphere since 1941 through nuclear testing, accidental release, and inadequate waste-handling practices. Plutonium likely enters soils as Pu(IV) hydroxides and oxides, which have low solubility and adsorb strongly to mineral surfaces. Therefore, environmental migration is generally believed to be low (but see Haschke et al., Reports, 14 January, p. 285).

Neu et al. have determined the structure of a siderophore (a small biomolecule that enables microorganisms to chelate and sequester environmental iron) in a nine-coordinate complex with Pu(IV). Formation of this complex demonstrates that the siderophore, desferrioxamine E, is sufficiently flexible to bind a metal center that is much larger than Fe(III). Siderophores such as this one may lead to greater groundwater contamination with plutonium, although bacterial uptake has not yet been demonstrated. -- JU

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