Microbially mediated reduction of Np(V) by a consortium of alkaline tolerant Fe(III)-reducing bacteria

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • External authors:
  • A.J. Williamson
  • C. Boothman
  • K. Dardenne


Neptunium-237 will be present in radioactive wastes over extended time periods due to its long half-life (2.13 × 106 years). Understanding its behaviour under conditions relevant to radioactive waste disposal is therefore of particular importance. Here, microcosm experiments were established using sediments from a legacy lime workings with high-pH conditions as an analogue of cementitious intermediate-level radioactive waste disposal. To probe the influence of Fe biogeochemistry on Np(V) in these systems, additional Fe(III) (as ferrihydrite) was added to select experiments. Biogeochemical changes were tracked in experiments with low levels of Np(V) (20 Bq ml−1; 3.3 μM), whilst parallel higher concentration systems (2.5 KBq ml−1; 414 μM) allowed X-ray absorption spectroscopy. As expected, microbial reduction processes developed in microbially-active systems with an initial pH of 10; however, during microbial incubations the pH dropped from 10 to ~7, reflecting the high levels of microbial metabolism occurring in these systems. In microbially-active systems without added Fe(III), 90% sorption of Np(V) occurred within one hour with essentially complete removal by one day. In the ferrihydrite-amended systems, complete sorption of Np(V) to ferrihydrite occurred within one hour. For higher-activity sediments, X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS) at end points where Fe(II) ingrowth was observed confirmed that complete reductive precipitation of Np(V) to Np(IV) had occurred under similar conditions to low-level Np experiments. Finally, pre-reduced, Fe(III)-reducing sediments, with and without added Fe(III) and held at pH 10, were spiked with Np(V). These alkaline pre-reduced sediments showed significant removal of Np to sediments, and XAS confirmed partial reduction to Np(IV) with the no Fe system, and essentially complete reduction to Np(IV) in the Fe(III)-enriched systems. This suggested an indirect, Fe(II)-mediated pathway for Np(V) reduction under alkaline conditions. Microbial analyses using 16S rRNA gene pyrosequencing suggested a role for alkali-tolerant, Gram-positive Firmicutes in coupled Fe(III) reduction and Np immobilization in these experiments.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1287-1295
Number of pages9
JournalMineralogical Magazine
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2015