Microbial mobilization of plutonium and other actinides from contaminated soil

J Environ Radioact. 2015 Dec;150:277-85. doi: 10.1016/j.jenvrad.2015.08.019. Epub 2015 Sep 25.


We examined the dissolution of Pu, U, and Am in contaminated soil from the Nevada Test Site (NTS) due to indigenous microbial activity. Scanning transmission x-ray microscopy (STXM) analysis of the soil showed that Pu was present in its polymeric form and associated with Fe- and Mn- oxides and aluminosilicates. Uranium analysis by x-ray diffraction (μ-XRD) revealed discrete U-containing mineral phases, viz., schoepite, sharpite, and liebigite; synchrotron x-ray fluorescence (μ-XRF) mapping showed its association with Fe- and Ca-phases; and μ-x-ray absorption near edge structure (μ-XANES) confirmed U(IV) and U(VI) oxidation states. Addition of citric acid or glucose to the soil and incubated under aerobic or anaerobic conditions enhanced indigenous microbial activity and the dissolution of Pu. Detectable amount of Am and no U was observed in solution. In the citric acid-amended sample, Pu concentration increased with time and decreased to below detection levels when the citric acid was completely consumed. In contrast, with glucose amendment, Pu remained in solution. Pu speciation studies suggest that it exists in mixed oxidation states (III/IV) in a polymeric form as colloids. Although Pu(IV) is the most prevalent and generally considered to be more stable chemical form in the environment, our findings suggest that under the appropriate conditions, microbial activity could affect its solubility and long-term stability in contaminated environments.

Keywords: Actinide dissolution and speciation; Actinides contaminated soil; Americium; Microbial activity; Plutonium; Uranium.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Actinoid Series Elements / metabolism*
  • Aerobiosis
  • Americium / metabolism
  • Anaerobiosis
  • Citric Acid / metabolism*
  • Glucose / metabolism*
  • Nevada
  • Plutonium / metabolism
  • Soil Microbiology*
  • Soil Pollutants, Radioactive / metabolism*
  • Uranium / metabolism


  • Actinoid Series Elements
  • Soil Pollutants, Radioactive
  • Citric Acid
  • Uranium
  • Plutonium
  • Glucose
  • Americium