Microbial degradation of isosaccharinic acid under conditions representative for the far field of radioactive waste disposal facilities

Gina Kuippers, Naji Milad Bassil, Christopher Boothman, Nicholas Bryan, Jonathan R. Lloyd

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


It is UK Government policy to dispose of higher activity radioactive waste through geological disposal into an engineered deep underground geological disposal facility (GDF; DECC, 2014). Those wastes include low-level (LLW) and intermediate-level (ILW) radioactive wastes that are very heterogeneous, containing a range of inorganic and organic materials, the latter including cellulosic items. After closure of the GDF, eventual resaturation with groundwater is expected, resulting in the development of a hyperalkaline environment due to the proposed use of a cementitious backfill. Under these high-pH conditions, cellulose is unstable and will be degraded chemically, forming a range of water-soluble, low molecular weight compounds, of which the most abundant is isosaccharinic acid (ISA). As ISA is known to form stable soluble complexes with a range of radionuclides, thereby increasing the chance of radionuclide transport, the impact of microbial metabolism on this organic substrate was investigated to help determine the role of microorganisms in moderating the transport of radionuclides from a cementitious GDF. Anaerobic biodegradation of ISA has been studied recently in high-pH cementitious ILW systems, but less work has been done under anaerobic conditions at circumneutral conditions, more representative of the geosphere surrounding a GDF. Here we report the fate of ISA in circumneutral microcosms poised under aerobic and anaerobic conditions; the latter with nitrate, Fe(III) or sulfate added as electron acceptors. Data are presented confirming the metabolism of ISA under these conditions, including the direct oxidation of ISA under aerobic and nitrate-reducing conditions and the fermentation of ISA to acetate, propionate and butyrate prior to utilization of these acids during Fe(III) and sulfate reduction. The microbial communities associated with these processes were characterized using 16S rRNA gene pyrosequencing. Methane production was also quantified in these experiments, and the added electron acceptors were shown to play a significant role in minimizing methanogenesis from ISA and its breakdown products.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1443-1454
Number of pages12
JournalMineralogical Magazine
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2015


  • biodegradation
  • complex
  • geological disposal
  • isosaccharinic acid
  • nuclear waste
  • radionuclide mobility


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