Two new research papers from The University of Manchester, working with colleagues at Sellafield Limited and the National Nuclear Laboratory show that microbes can actively colonise some of the most intensively radioactive waste storage sites in Europe. When nuclear facilities such as Sellafield were designed and built more than 50 years ago, it was sensible to assume that the conditions in the pond would prevent microbial life from taking hold, but now new research shows that this is not the case. The growth of microbial life in nuclear facilities can cause uncertainty or problems. Understanding how microbial life can inhabit environments such as fuel storage ponds is vital to progress nuclear decommissioning work such as at Sellafield. Microbes are a group of organisms that, including bacteria and algae, are known to inhabit a wide range of habitats on Earth. Improvements in detection technology in recent years has allowed microorganisms to be detected in environments previously thought to be inhospitable to life. It is now becoming clear that some microorganisms are capable of withstanding surprisingly high doses of radiation, at levels significantly greater than seen in natural environments.
Manchester University 8th April 2020 read more »
University of Manchester researchers have discovered microbial life can survive intense radiation at European nuclear waste storage sites. Working with the National Nuclear Laboratory at the Sellafield nuclear site, researchers found that microbes, including bacteria and algae, can survive in environments previously thought to be inhospitable to life. Geomicromicrobiologists studied microbes that can cause summer blooms in nuclear fuel storage ponds, slowing down the decommissioning process of retired nuclear plants. Summer blooms reduce visibility and disrupt fuel retrieval. University of Manchester microbiology professor Jonathan Lloyd said: “Our research focused on Sellafield’s First Generation Magnox Storage Pond (FGMSP), which is a legacy pond that has both significant levels of radioactivity in conjunction with a highly alkaline pH (11.4), equivalent to domestic bleach. “The ultimate aim of this work was to identify the microbes that can tolerate such an inhospitable environment, understand how they tolerate high radiation levels, and help site operators control their growth. “The growth of the microorganisms in the FGMSP inhibits the operations in the pond, which is currently a priority for decommissioning. “
Power Technology 8th April 2020 read more »
Our issues with radioactivity though are obviously not behind us. A major headache today is how to handle and safely store nuclear waste. Here in the UK, we’ve got 650,000 cubic metres of the stuff – enough to fill Wembley Stadium – and it’ll be radioactive and dangerous for 100,000 years. Claire Corkhill is at the University of Sheffield where she works on ways to store this stuff safely, and she joined Chris Smith and Adam Murphy. These nuclear waste materials will change over the hundred thousand years that they’ll be radioactive. And there are some different ways that this might occur. One would be corrosion, so the natural corrosion of the materials once they’re buried deep under the ground, which is their final disposal route; if they slowly corrode in groundwater they may release their radioactivity. But the other issue is, as you rightly noted, that the radioactivity inside the waste might actually cause the waste itself to break down. And you can think of this as a highly energetic particle, a bit like was described before with breaking DNA; instead of breaking DNA we’re actually breaking the intrinsic chemical bonds inside our nuclear waste material, and this will essentially cause the waste to disintegrate. And this is something that we have to understand.
The Naked Scientist 7th April 2020 read more »