Bugs generate power while cleaning nuclear waste

Researchers have figured out how a class of bugs can deliver double benefit — generate power while cleaning up nuclear waste and other toxic metals.

“Geobacter bacteria are tiny micro-organisms that can play a major role in cleaning up (nuclear fuel) polluted sites around the world,” said Michigan State University microbiologist Gemma Reguera, who led the study.

Their effectiveness was proven during a cleanup in a uranium mill tailings site in Colorado. Researchers injected acetate into contaminated groundwater, the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports.

Since this is geobacters’ preferred food, it stimulated the growth of the bug’s community already in the soil, which in turn, worked to remove the uranium, Reguera said, according to a Michigan statement.

Nanowires, hair-like appendages found on the outside of geobacters, are the managers of electrical activity during such a cleanup.

“Our findings clearly identify nanowires as being the primary catalyst for uranium reduction,” Reguera said.

“They are essentially immobilising the radioactive material and preventing it from leaching into groundwater,” the microbiologist added.

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