Subsurface bio-mediated reduction of higher-valent uranium and plutonium

Donald T. Reed, Sarah E. Pepper, Michael K. Richmann, Geof Smith, Randhir Deo, Bruce Rittmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Bio-mediated reduction of multivalent actinide contaminants plays an important role in their fate and transport in the subsurface. To initiate the process of extending recent progress in uranium biogeochemistry to plutonium, a side-by-side comparison of the bioreduction of uranyl and plutonyl species was conducted with Shewanella alga BrY, a facultative metal-reducing bacterium that is known to enzymatically reduce uranyl. Uranyl was reduced in our system, consistent with literature reports, but we have noted a strong coupling between abiotic and biotic processes and observe that non-reductive pathways to precipitation typically exist. Additionally, a key role of biogenic Fe2+, which is known to reduce uranyl at low pH, is suggested. In contrast, residual organics, present in biologically active systems, reduce Pu(VI) species to Pu(V) species at near-neutral pH. The predominance of relatively weak complexes of PuO2+ is an important difference in how the uranyl and plutonyl species interacted with S. alga. Pu(V) also led to increased toxicity towards S. alga and is also more easily reduced by microbial activity. Biogenic Fe2+, produced by S. alga when Fe(III) is present as an electron acceptor, also played a key role in understanding redox controls and pathways in this system. Overall, the bioreduction of plutonyl is observed under anaerobic conditions, which favors its immobilization in the subsurface. Understanding the mechanism by which redox control is established in biologically active systems is a key aspect of remediation and immobilization strategies for actinides when they are present as subsurface contaminants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)376-382
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Alloys and Compounds
Issue numberSPEC. ISS.
StatePublished - Nov 2007


  • Actinide alloys and compounds

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Metals and Alloys
  • Materials Chemistry


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