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Environ Sci Technol. 2002 Apr 1;36(7):1491-6.

In-situ evidence for uranium immobilization and remobilization.

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Department of Botany and Microbiology and Institute for Energy and the Environment, University of Oklahoma, Norman 73019, USA.


The in-situ microbial reduction and immobilization of uranium was assessed as a means of preventing the migration of this element in the terrestrial subsurface. Uranium immobilization (putatively identified as reduction) and microbial respiratory activities were evaluated in the presence of exogenous electron donors and acceptors with field push-pull tests using wells installed in an anoxic aquifer contaminated with landfill leachate. Uranium(VI) amended at 1.5 microM was reduced to less than 1 nM in groundwater in less than 8 d during all field experiments. Amendments of 0.5 mM sulfate or 5 mM nitrate slowed U(VI) immobilization and allowed for the recovery of 10% and 54% of the injected element, respectively, as compared to 4% in the unamended treatment. Laboratory incubations confirmed the field tests and showed that the majority of the U(VI) immobilized was due to microbial reduction. In these tests, nitrate treatment (7.5 mM) inhibited U(VI) reduction, and nitrite was transiently produced. Further push-pull tests were performed in which either 1 or 5 mM nitrate was added with 1.0 uM U(VI) to sediments that already contained immobilized uranium. After an initial loss of the amendments, the concentration of soluble U(VI) increased and eventually exceeded the injected concentration, indicating that previously immobilized uranium was remobilized as nitrate was reduced. Laboratory experiments using heat-inactivated sediment slurries suggested that the intermediates of dissimilatory nitrate reduction (denitrification or dissimilatory nitrate reduction to ammonia), nitrite, nitrous oxide, and nitric oxide were all capable of oxidizing and mobilizing U(IV). These findings indicate that in-situ subsurface U(VI) immobilization can be expected to take place under anaerobic conditions, but the permanence of the approach can be impaired by disimilatory nitrate reduction intermediates that can mobilize previously reduced uranium.

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