Microbial impacts on 99mTc migration through sandstone under highly alkaline conditions relevant to radioactive waste disposal

Sarah Smith, Christopher Boothman, Heather Williams, Beverly L. Ellis, Joanna Wragg, Julia M West, Jonathan Lloyd

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Geological disposal of intermediate level radioactive waste in the UK is planned to involve the use of cementitious materials, facilitating the formation of an alkali-disturbed zone within the host rock. The biogeochemical processes that will occur in this environment, and the extent to which they will impact on radionuclide migration, are currently poorly understood. This study investigates the impact of biogeochemical processes on the mobility of the radionuclide technetium, in column experiments designed to be representative of aspects of the alkali-disturbed zone. Results indicate that microbial processes were capable of inhibiting 99mTc migration through columns, and X-ray radiography demonstrated that extensive physical changes had occurred to the material within columns where microbiological activity had been stimulated. The utilisation of organic acids under highly alkaline conditions, generating H2 and CO2, may represent a mechanism by which microbial processes may alter the hydraulic conductivity of a geological environment. Column sediments were dominated by obligately alkaliphilic H2-oxidising bacteria, suggesting that the enrichment of these bacteria may have occurred as a result of H2 generation during organic acid metabolism. The results from these experiments show that microorganisms are able to carry out a number of processes under highly alkaline conditions that could potentially impact on the properties of the host rock surrounding a geological disposal facility for intermediate level radioactive waste.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)485-495
Number of pages11
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date14 Oct 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2017


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