Microbial bloom formation in a high pH spent nuclear fuel pond

Lynn Foster, Christopher Boothman, Sharon Ruiz-lopez, Genevieve Boshoff, Peter Jenkinson, David Sigee, Jon K. Pittman, Katherine Morris, Jonathan R. Lloyd

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Microorganisms are able to colonise a wide range of extreme environments, including nuclear facilities. In this study, the First Generation Magnox Storage Pond (FGMSP) a high pH, legacy spent nuclear fuel pond (SNFP) situated at Sellafield, Cumbria, UK, was studied. Despite the inhospitable conditions in the FGMSP, microorganisms can cause “blooms” within the facility which to date have not been studied. These microbial blooms significantly reduce visibility in the engineered facility, disrupting fuel retrieval operations and slowing decommissioning. The microbial community colonising the pond during two microbial bloom periods was determined by using physiological measurement and high throughput next generation sequencing techniques. In situ probes within the ponds targeting photosynthetic pigments indicated a cyanobacterial bloom event. Analysis of the 16S rRNA gene data suggested that a single cyanobacterial genus was dominant during the bloom events, which was most closely related to Pseudanabaena sp. Comparisons between the microbial community of FGMSP and an adjacent SNFP that is periodically purged into the FGMSP, showed different community profiles. Data confirm the onset of the microbial blooms occurred when the pond purge rate was reduced, and blooms could be controlled by re-establishing the purging regime. The presence of Pseudanabaena sp. that can colonise the pond and dominate during bloom periods is notable since they have received little attention for their role in cyanobacterial bloom formation. This work also informs bioremediation efforts to treat waters contaminated with radionuclides, which could benefit from the use of cyanobacteria able to tolerate extreme environments and accumulate priority radionuclides.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)137515
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date22 Feb 2020
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2020


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