Can radiation-feeding bacteria eliminate radiation?

27 March 2011

Question

Can bacteria that live on radio isotopes help to eliminate or breakdown radiation?

Answer

We posed this question to Rich Bowden from the University of Warwick...

Rich - As far as I know - it's not really my field - they don't actually break down the isotope. The isotope naturally decays and then the bacteria harness the energy from that rather than the bacteria forcing the decay to happen. It will still happen at its natural rate.

Chris - Although some people say that it's possible to use microbes to either sequester radio isotopes into insoluble forms which pose less threat, or to break down things which are in a radioactive form that's harder to clean up, into one that's easier to clean up.

Rich - Yeah. Mineralisation of radio isotopes, such as uranium compounds, can be done by thiobacilli for example, they will oxidise the uranium into an insoluble form which is much easier to remove from solution. It's been used in biomining.

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