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J Appl Microbiol. 2010 Mar;108(3):1094-104. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2672.2009.04629.x. Epub 2009 Nov 18.

Analysis of copper corrosion in compacted bentonite clay as a function of clay density and growth conditions for sulfate-reducing bacteria.

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Department of Cell and Molecular Biology, Microbiology, University of Gothenburg, Göteborg, Sweden.



To investigate the relationships between sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB), growth conditions, bentonite densities and copper sulfide generation under circumstances relevant to underground, high-level radioactive waste repositories.


Experiments took place 450 m underground, connected under in situ pressure to groundwater containing SRB. The microbial reduction of sulfate to sulfide and subsequent corrosion of copper test plates buried in compacted bentonite were analysed using radioactive sulfur (35SO4(2-)) as tracer. Mass distribution of copper sulfide on the plates indicated a diffusive process. The relationship between average diffusion coefficients (Ds) and tested density (rho) was linear. Ds (m2 s(-1))=-0.004xrho (kg m(-3))+8.2, decreasing by 0.2 Ds units per 50 kg m(-3) increase in density, from 1.2x10(-11) m2 s(-1) at 1750 kg m(-3) to 0.2x10(-11) m2 s(-1) at 2000 kg m(-3).


It is possible that sulfide corrosion of waste canisters in future radioactive waste repositories depends mainly on sulfide concentration at the boundary between groundwater and the buffer, which in turn depends on SRB growth conditions (e.g., sulfate accessibility, carbon availability and electron donors) and geochemical parameters (e.g., presence of ferrous iron, which immobilizes sulfide). Maintaining high bentonite density is also important in mitigating canister corrosion.


The sulfide diffusion coefficients can be used in safety calculations regarding waste canister corrosion. The work supports findings that microbial activity in compacted bentonite will be restricted. The study emphasizes the importance of growth conditions for sulfate reduction at the groundwater boundary of the bentonite buffer and linked sulfide production.

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