The effect of low-pH concrete on microbial community development in bentonite suspensions as a model for microbial activity prediction in future nuclear waste repository

Sci Total Environ. 2022 Feb 20;808:151861. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2021.151861. Epub 2021 Nov 24.


Concrete as an important component of an engineered barrier system in deep geological repositories (DGR) for radioactive waste may come into contact with bentonite, or other clays, rich in indigenous microorganisms, with potentially harmful impacts on barrier integrity. Our study aimed to assess the effect of a concrete environment on indigenous bentonite and groundwater microbial communities as these particular conditions will select for the potentially harmful microorganisms to the concrete in the future DGR. The two-month experiment under anoxic conditions consisted of crushed, aged, low-pH concrete, Czech Ca-Mg bentonite, and anoxic groundwater, with control samples without concrete or with sterile groundwater. The microbial diversity and proliferation were estimated by qPCR and 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing. The presence of concrete had a strong effect on microbial diversity and reduced the increase in total microbial biomass, though low-pH concrete harbored indigenous bacteria. The growth of sulfate reducers was also limited in concrete samples. Several genera, such as Massilia, Citrifermentans, and Lacunisphaera, dominant in bentonite controls, were suppressed in concrete-containing samples. In contrast, genera such as Bacillus, Dethiobacter and Anaerosolibacter specifically proliferated in the presence of concrete. Genera such as Thermincola or Pseudomonas exhibited high versatility and proliferated well under both conditions. Because several of the detected bacterial genera are known to affect concrete integrity, further long-term studies are needed to estimate the effect of bentonite and groundwater microorganisms on concrete stability in future DGR.

Keywords: Bentonite; Indigenous microorganisms; Low-pH concrete; Nuclear waste repository safety.

MeSH terms

  • Bentonite
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Microbiota*
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • Radioactive Waste* / analysis
  • Suspensions


  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S
  • Radioactive Waste
  • Suspensions
  • Bentonite