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Radiat Res. 1999 Jul;152(1):64-70.

Effect of gamma radiation on native endolithic microorganisms from a radioactive waste deposit site.

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Department of Biological Sciences, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 4505 South Maryland Parkway, Las Vegas, Nevada 89154-4004, USA.


A time-course experiment was conducted to evaluate the effects of gamma radiation on the indigenous microbiota present in rock obtained from Yucca Mountain, Nevada Test Site. Microcosms were constructed by placing pulverized Yucca Mountain rock in polystyrene cylinders. Continuous exposure (96 h) at a dose rate of 1.63 Gy/min was used to mimic the near-field environment surrounding waste canisters. The expected maximum surface dose rate from one unbreached canister designed to contain spent nuclear fuels is 0.06 Gy/min. Considering the current repository packing design, multiple canisters within one vault, the cumulative dose rate may well approach that used in this experiment. The microbial communities were characterized after receiving cumulative doses of 0, 0.098, 0. 58, 2.33, 4.67, 7.01 and 9.34 kGy. Radiation-resistant microorganisms in the pulverized rock became viable but nonculturable (VBNC) after a cumulative dose of 2.33 kGy. VBNC microorganisms lose the ability to grow on media on which they have routinely been cultured in response to the environmental stress imposed (i.e. radiation) but can be detected throughout the time course using direct fluorescence microscopy techniques. Two representative exopolysaccharide-producing isolates from Yucca Mountain were exposed to the same radiation regimen in sand microcosms. One isolate was much more radiation-resistant than the other, but both had greater resistance than the general microbial community based on culturable counts. However, when respiring cell counts (VBNC) were compared after irradiation, the results would indicate much more radiation resistance of the individual isolates and the microbial community in general. These results have significant implications for underground storage of nuclear waste as they indicate that indigenous microorganisms are capable of surviving gamma irradiation in a VBNC state.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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