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Compacted bentonite as a source of substrates for sulfate-reducing microorganisms in a simulated excavation-damaged zone of a spent nuclear fuel repository

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Original languageEnglish
Article number105746
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2020
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


Sulfide formed by sulfate-reducing microorganisms (SRM) is a potential safety risk in the geological disposal of spent nuclear fuel (SNF) enclosed in copper canisters because it can corrode copper. The canisters will be isolated from the environment by surrounding them with compacted bentonite. This study shows experimentally that the organic matter naturally present in compacted bentonites can become dissolved and sustain biological sulfate reduction. The experiment was conducted in cell systems consisting of an interface of compacted bentonite (at dry density of 1314–1368 kg m−3) and a low-porosity sand layer representing an excavation-damaged zone of the host rock. Some cells were inoculated with SRM and groundwater microorganisms and some were not. Varying concentrations of organic matter and sulfate in the sand layer solution resulted from partial dissolution of the studied bentonites (Wyoming, Indian, and Bulgarian). The dissolved organic matter promoted biological sulfate reduction, as demonstrated by the decrease in sulfate concentration in the sand layer solution and the formation of sulfide iron precipitates in the inoculated cells relative to the uninoculated cells. Other anaerobic microorganisms (e.g., methanogens) also became active in the cells and they along with the SRM were found to grow within the sand and/or bentonite layers of the cells. The findings of this study show that bentonites can sustain biological sulfate reduction in areas with lower density and immobilize possibly formed sulfides. However, the extent of these capabilities seems to be affected by the mineralogy of bentonites in the studied density range.

ASJC Scopus subject areas


  • Buffer-host rock interface, Engineered barrier system, Geologic disposal, Microbial activity, Organic matter, Sulfide formation

Publication forum classification

Field of science, Statistics Finland