Rout, Simon, Charles, Christopher, Garratt, Eva, Laws, Andrew P., Gunn, John and Humphreys, Paul (2015) Evidence of the Generation of Isosaccharinic Acids and Their Subsequent Degradation by Local Microbial Consortia within Hyper-Alkaline Contaminated Soils, with Relevance to Intermediate Level Radioactive Waste Disposal. PLoS ONE, 10 (3). e0119164. ISSN 1932-6203

The contamination of surface environments with hydroxide rich wastes leads to the formation of high pH (>11.0) soil profiles. One such site is a legacy lime works at Harpur Hill, Derbyshire where soil profile indicated in-situ pH values up to pH 12. Soil and porewater profiles around the site indicated clear evidence of the presence of the α and β stereoisomers of isosaccharinic acid (ISA) resulting from the anoxic, alkaline degradation of cellulosic material. ISAs are of particular interest with regards to the disposal of cellulosic materials contained within the intermediate level waste (ILW) inventory of the United Kingdom, where they may influence radionuclide mobility via complexation events occurring within a geological disposal facility (GDF) concept. The mixing of uncontaminated soils with the alkaline leachate of the site resulted in ISA generation, where the rate of generation in-situ is likely to be dependent upon the prevailing temperature of the soil. Microbial consortia present in the uncontaminated soil were capable of surviving conditions imposed by the alkaline leachate and demonstrated the ability to utilise ISAs as a carbon source. Leachate-contaminated soil was sub-cultured in a cellulose degradation product driven microcosm operating at pH 11, the consortia present were capable of the degradation of ISAs and the generation of methane from the resultant H2/CO2 produced from fermentation processes. Following microbial community analysis, fermentation processes appear to be predominated by Clostridia from the genus Alkaliphilus sp, with methanogenesis being attributed to Methanobacterium and Methanomassiliicoccus sp. The study is the first to identify the generation of ISA within an anthropogenic environment and advocates the notion that microbial activity within an ILW-GDF is likely to influence the impact of ISAs upon radionuclide migration.

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