A chemistry professor from the University of Missouri may have found a way to clean radioactive metal contamination. The bacteria-based solution is able to work in this challenging business where most of technologies were too expensive or sometimes did not work.
According to the EPA, there are more than 1000 sites contaminated with radioactive waste in the US.
Professor Judy Wall started to study a widespread bacteria called Desulfovibrio vulgaris, which is found in soil, and metabolizes radioactive and heavy metals. The bacteria prompts an electron transfer that is able to turn uranium into mineral uraninite, which is almost insoluble and which will sink in water. Being insoluble in water, it protects us from swallowing it by accident. Judy Wall is collaborating with scientists from the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory in California to try and figure out how this bacteria can be used most efficiently in order to relieve our planet from radioactive waste. The research is supported by the US Department of Energy.
Being very complex, the research gave a lot headache to the scientists as they found that Desulfovibrio vulgaris can be easily killed by oxygen. This finding makes things even more complicated as they need to find out how much oxygen the bacteria can withstand, which environmental factors affect it, what stimulates its growth, and what happens to the precipitated metals over time.