Redox Chemistry of Actinyl Complexes in Solution: A DFT Study

  • Krishnamoorthy Arumugam

Student thesis: Phd


The chemistry of actinides in solution is a very important aspect of the nuclear fuel cycle, especially as the energy needs of the world continue to increase. However, the radio-active nature of the actinides makes experimentation very difficult and dedicated expensive instruments are required. In addition, the disposal of radio-active waste materials requires a proper understanding of their chemistry at a molecular level. To tackle the problem, and to underpin the experimental studies, in this thesis we have studied the redox chemistry and disproportionation mechanism of actinyl complexes in solution using state-of-the art computational methods. Reduction potentials of actinyl complexes in solution have been estimated in solution using density functional theory (DFT) approaches. Solvation effects were included in the quantum chemistry calculations with the conductor like polarisable continuum model (CPCM) solvation method. First of all, we have validated our computational method by studying a variety of solute cavity definitions within the CPCM solvation model and assessed the performance of a range of DFT functionals to suitable to accurately describe the actinide chemistry in solution. Penta-valent uranyl(V) ions are unstable and readily disproportionate; in this study we have explored outer-sphere electron transfer and disproportionation mechanisms to determine the stability of these ions in solution. We have found that the process of outer-sphere disproportionation is unlikely to occur in non-aqueous solutions, such as DMSO, DMF, DCM, acetonitrile and pyridine, when the uranyl(V) ion is bound with a multi-dentate organic ligand. However, our computational results hypothesise that the presence of a trace of water in the experimental conditions can promote a disproportionation reaction by protonating the uranyl(V) 'yl' oxygen atoms and then the electron transfer process would proceed through either inner or outer sphere mechanism. In addition, the effect of alkali metal cations on the outer-sphere disproportionation mechanisms was also studied. Overall it has been shown that DFT can be used to accurately predict the redox properties of actinyl complexes in solution and thus contributing for an effective and efficient design of nuclear material separations, proper as well as safer radioactive waste disposal.
Date of Award1 Aug 2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorNeil Burton (Supervisor)


  • Computational Chemistry, Quantum Mechanics, DFT, CPCM, Actinides, Redox, Reduction Potentials, Reference Electrodes, Speciation, Non-aqueous Solution, Cavity Model, IEFPCM, PCM, Spin-orbit interaction, Penta-valent uranyl ion, Disproportionation, Actinyl(V), Actinyl Complexes, Ligand Design, Radioactive Waste Disposal, Nuclear Waste Disposal, Computational Actinide Chemistry

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