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Insight into the structural ambiguity of actinide(IV) oxalate sheet structures: a case for alternate coordination geometries

Plutonium(IV) oxalate hexahydrate (Pu(C2O4)2∙6H2O; PuOx) is an important intermediate in the recovery of plutonium from used nuclear fuel. Its formation via precipitation is well studied, yet its crystal structure remains unknown. Instead, the crystal structure of PuOx is assumed to be isostructural with neptunium(IV) oxalate hexahydrate (Np(C2O4)­2∙6H2O; NpOx) and uranium(IV) oxalate hexahydrate (U(C2O4)­2∙6H2O; UOx) despite the high degree of unresolved disorder that exists when determining water positions in the crystal structures of the latter two compounds. Such assumptions regarding the isostructural behavior of the actinide elements have been used to predict the structure of PuOx for use in a wide range of studies. Herein, we report the first crystal structures for PuOx and Th(C2O4)2·6H2O (ThOx). This data, along with new characterization of UOx and NpOx, has resulted in the full determination of the structures and resolution of the disorder around the water molecules. Specifically, we identify the coordination of two water molecules with each metal center, which necessitates a change in oxalate coordination mode from axial to equatorial that has not been reported in the literature. This work exemplifies the need to revisit previous assumptions regarding fundamental actinide chemistry, which are heavily relied upon within the current nuclear field.

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