Waste-munching bacteria could make nuclear stores safer

Waste-munching bacteria could make nuclear stores safer

Published: 11 April 2017

https://www.newscientist.com/article/2127588-waste-munching-bacteria-could-make-nuclear-stores-safer/

As we learned about in class before, through research shown to us by Dr. Leigh, that some microbes use Uranium or other such things as a food source.   For that reason, when I was this article, I thought it might be interesting to see it there was any progress made.

As part of a radioactive waste disposal plan, the UK is hoping to put the radioactive waste deep underground and to cover it with cement.   The problem with cement (as stated by the article) is that it will create conditions too alkaline for microbes to grow.   To test this theory, a research team studied a similarly-conditioned site.   It was seen that there were microbes that were able to withstand such conditions.   In alkaline conditions, there is a possibility of the uranium to form soluble complexes with isosaccharinic acid and to leak out, but with the presence of microbes, the isosaccharinic acid would be degraded by them, which would help to stop these leaks.   An additional benefit of the microbes is that some break down H2, which would stop the gas from building up pressure and causing a radioactive gas leak.

One nice thing about this study was seeing the use of the words “carbon source,’ as well as the author describing that the bacteria that break down uranium and other metals (such as neptunium) use it “in place of oxygen’ thereby representing the use of oxygen as an electron acceptor.   The way it is presented is very interesting and makes me thing that it does a good job of making the information accessible to the public.   The paper also expands on the findings, suggesting using them for decontamination of drinking water, such as we saw in the study presented by Dr. Leigh.

One thing that is lacking in this paper is differentiation of microbes, albeit this might make the article harder for the general public to consume.   For this reason though, I wonder, are the microbes mentioned through the paper the same microbes or are different ones used in different scenarios (I find the latter more likely)?   Additionally, I wonder, are the microbes ones that would naturally be present and persist in the given environment or are they being introduced?

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