Scientists baffled by discovery that “cobwebs” on spent nuclear fuel is actually bacteria

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Savannah River scientists have confirmed that a material resembling a cobweb which was found to be growing on spent nuclear fuel in the L Basin, is actually a form of bacteria with DNA strains currently unknown.

“We did a genetic analysis and found a diverse population of mostly bacteria,” said Christopher Berry, the senior technical adviser of the Savannah River National Labortory.

The scientists are studying it to determine what it uses for food in such an unusual environment, since a recirculating deionization system would remove most materials that would be used for feed.  If its food source can be identified and eliminated, the bacteria – and the cobwebs – might be more easily controlled, Berry said.

In 2002, scientists at Savannah River discovered another mysterious growth on a monitoring probe in one of the site’s high-level waste tanks. That finding turned out to be Kineococcus radiotolerans, a microorganism that is capable of withstanding UV exposure and prolonged desiccation, and lives even though it is exposed to radiation doses a thousand times the lethal limits for humans. Subsequent genome sequencing at the University of Georgia revealed that “the content of the Kineococcus genome suggests purposeful adaptations to the high level waste environment.”

It has also been revealed that other mircoorganisms have been found leaking out of 50 year old nuclear waste tanks at Hanford, in Canadian reactors, as well as at the Three Mile Island nuclear power station in Pennsylvania.

Source: The Augusta Chronicle

Source: Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Source: US National Library of Medicine – National Institutes of Health

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