It has generally been assumed that the bioreduction of hexavalent uranium in groundwater systems will result in the precipitation of immobile uraninite (UO2). In order to explore the form and stability of uranium immobilized under these conditions, we introduced lactate (15mM for 3months) into flow-through columns containing sediments derived from a former uranium-processing site at Old Rifle, CO. This resulted in metal-reducing conditions as evidenced by concurrent uranium uptake and iron release. Despite initial augmentation with Shewanella oneidensis, bacteria belonging to the phylum Firmicutes dominated the biostimulated columns. The immobilization of uranium (∼1mmolU per kg sediment) enabled analysis by X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS). Tetravalent uranium associated with these sediments did not have spectroscopic signatures representative of U-U shells or crystalline UO2. Analysis by microfocused XAS revealed concentrated micrometer regions of solid U(IV) that had spectroscopic signatures consistent with bulk analyses and a poor proximal correlation (μm scale resolution) between U and Fe. A plausible explanation, supported by biogeochemical conditions and spectral interpretations, is uranium association with phosphoryl moieties found in biomass; hence implicating direct enzymatic uranium reduction. After the immobilization phase, two months of in situ exposure to oxic influent did not result in substantial uranium remobilization. Ex situ flow-through experiments demonstrated more rapid uranium mobilization than observed in column oxidation studies and indicated that sediment-associated U(IV) is more mobile than biogenic UO2. This work suggests that in situ uranium bioimmobilization studies and subsurface modeling parameters should be expanded to account for non-uraninite U(IV) species associated with biomass.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Geochemistry and Petrology