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The role of microorganisms in the bentonite barrier of high-level radioactive waste repositories

Matschiavelli, N.; Dressler, M.; Neubert, T.; Kluge, S.; Schierz, A.; Cherkouk, A.
The global production of 12,000 metric tonnes of high-level radioactive waste (HLW) every year is a big challenge with respect to its safe long-term storage. In the favored multi-barrier system, bentonite is used as a geo-technical barrier in many disposal programs worldwide. The bentonite seals the space between the canister containing the HLW and the surrounding host rock, thereby fulfilling two major tasks: 1) slow down the process of corrosion when water enters the disposal site, and 2) hinder the discharge of radionuclides into the bio-geosphere in case of a leaking canister. Due to their metabolic activity, microorganisms could influence the properties of the bentonite barrier. In order to investigate the metabolic potential of naturally occurring microorganisms, we conducted anaerobic bentonite-slurry experiments containing uncompact bentonite and a synthetic Opalinus Clay pore water solution. Within one-year incubation at 30 and 60 °C, lactate- or H2-stimulated microcosms at 30 °C showed the dominance and activity of strictly anaerobic, sulfate-reducing and spore-forming microorganisms. Consequently, hydrogen sulfide gas was generated in the respective set ups, leading to the formation of fractures and iron-sulfur precipitations. Experiments that incubated at 60 °C, showed the dominance of thermophilic bacteria, independent of the presence of substrates. The respective set ups showed no significant changes in the analyzed bio-geochemical parameters. The obtained results clearly show that indigenous microorganisms evolve in a temperature- and substrate-dependent manner. The formed metabolites can potentially affect the dissolution behavior of minerals and ions within the bentonite as well as the corrosion process of the canister material and require further investigations.
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Permalink: https://www.hzdr.de/publications/Publ-30926
Publ.-Id: 30926