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Title: Assessing the Role of Iron Sulfides in the Long Term Sequestration of Uranium by Sulfate-Reducing Bacteria

This overarching aim of this project was to identify the role of biogenic and synthetic iron-sulfide minerals in the long-term sequestration of reduced U(IV) formed under sulfate-reducing conditions when subjected to re-oxidizing conditions. The work reported herein was achieved through the collaborative research effort conducted at Arizona State University (ASU) and the University of Michigan (UM). Research at ASU, focused on the biogenesis aspects, examined the biogeochemical bases for iron-sulfide production by Desulfovibrio vulgaris, a Gram-negative bacterium that is one of the most-studied strains of sulfate-reducing bacteria. A series of experimental studies were performed to investigate comprehensively important metabolic and environmental factors that affect the rates of sulfate reduction and iron-sulfide precipitation, the mineralogical characteristics of the iron sulfides, and how uranium is reduced or co-reduced by D. vulagaris. FeS production studies revealed that controlling the pH affected the growth of D. vulgaris and strongly influenced the formation and growth of FeS solids. In particular, lower pH produced larger-sized mackinawite (Fe1+xS). Greater accumulation of free sulfide, from more sulfate reduction by D. vulgaris, also led to larger-sized mackinawite and stimulated mackinawite transformation to greigite (Fe3S4) when the free sulfide concentration was 29.3 mM. On the other hand, using solid Fe(III)more » (hydr)oxides as the iron source led to less productivity of FeS due to their slow and incomplete dissolution and scavenging of sulfide. Furthermore, sufficient free Fe2+, particularly during Fe(III) (hydr)oxide reductions, led to the additional formation of vivianite [Fe3(PO4)2•8(H2O)]. The U(VI) reduction studies revealed that D. vulgaris reduced U(VI) fastest when accumulating sulfide from concomitant sulfate reduction, since direct enzymatic and sulfide-based reductions of U(VI) occurred in parallel. The UO2 produced in presence of ferrous iron was poorly crystalline. At UM, laboratory-scale reactor studies were performed to assess the potential for the predominant abiotic reductants formed under sulfate reducing conditions (SRCs) to: (1) reduce U(VI) in contaminated groundwater sediments), and (2) inhibit the re-oxidation of U(IV) species, and in particular, uraninite (UO2(s)). Under SRCs, mackinawite and aqueous sulfide are the key reductants expected to form. To assess their potential for abiotic reduction of U(VI) species, a series of experiments were performed in which either FeS or S(-II) was added to solutions of U(VI), with the rates of conversion to U(IV) solids monitored as a function of pH, and carbonate and calcium concentration. In the presence of FeS and absence of oxygen or carbonate, U(IV) was completely reduced uraninite. S(-II) was also found to be an effective reductant of aqueous phase U(VI) species and produced uraninite, with the kinetics and extent of reduction depending on geochemical conditions. U(VI) reduction to uraninite was faster under higher S(-II) concentrations but was slowed by an increase in the dissolved Ca or carbonate concentration. Rapid reduction of U(VI) occurred at circumneutral pH but virtually no reduction occurred at pH 10.7. In general, dissolved Ca and carbonate slowed abiotic U(VI) reduction by forming stable Ca-U(VI)-carbonate soluble complexes that are resistant to reaction with aqueous sulfide. To investigate the stability of U(IV) against re-oxidation in the presence of iron sulfides by oxidants in simulated groundwater environments, and to develop a mechanistic understanding the controlling redox processes, continuously-mixed batch reactor (CMBR) and flow-through reactor (CMFR) studies were performed at UM. In these studies a series of experiments were conducted under various oxic groundwater conditions to examine the effectiveness of FeS as an oxygen scavenger to retard UO2 dissolution. The results indicate that FeS is an effective oxygen scavenger, and can lower the rate of oxidative dissolution of UO2 by over an order of magnitude compared to the absence of FeS, depending on pH, FeS content, and DO concentrations. Column reactor studies were performed at UM to assess the impact of mackinawite on uraninite oxidation under hydrodynamic flow conditions more representative of packed porous media at contaminated groundwater sites. In these studies, Rifle sediments were packed in the two columns which were subjected to different bioreduction steps and then run in parallel. The first column was bioreduced under SRCs (i.e., with sulfate in the influent) to generate mackinawite, mixed with uraninite, gamma-sterilized to inhibit subsequent microbiological activity, and then subjected to groundwater influent containing first nitrite and then oxygen. The second column was bioreduced (but in absence of sulfate in the influent) so that no iron sulfides would form, and then subjected to identical steps and influent as the first column. When nitrite was introduced in the influent of both columns, no significant release of U(VI) relative to the anoxic flow prior to nitrite addition occurred. However, when oxygen was introduced, the column which had undergone sulfate reduction (and had produced mackinawite as later verified by XAS) significantly lowered the peak U(VI) effluent concentrations, and in general, slowed U(VI) release considerably compared to the column with no FeS. Overall, these studies demonstrated that the presence of mackinawite can be a significant scavenger of oxygen and inhibit the oxidation of uraninite by oxygen, whereas nitrite had little impact on uraninite oxidation either in the presence or absence of FeS.« less
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Publication Date:
OSTI Identifier:
Report Number(s):
DOE Contract Number:
Resource Type:
Technical Report
Research Org:
University of Michiagn, Ann Arbor, MI
Sponsoring Org:
USDOE Office of Science (SC), Biological and Environmental Research (BER) (SC-23)
Contributing Orgs:
Arizona State University, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Country of Publication:
United States
54 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES; uranium groundwater contamination; sulfate reducing bacteria; Desulfovibrio vulgaris, mackinawite oxidation; uraninite oxidation