E. Coli Can Be Used To Clean Up Nuclear Waste

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Researchers have found that E. coli can be used to recover uranium from tainted waters and can even be used to clean up nuclear waste.

Using the bacteria along with inositol phosphate, the bacteria breaks down the phosphate--also called phytic acid--to free the phosphate molecules. The phosphate then binds to the uranium forming a uranium-phosphate precipitate on the cells of the bacteria. Those cells can then be harvested to recover the uranium.

Escherichia coli bacteria (E. coli)
Photo of Escherichia coli bacteria (E. coli) from LimbicNutrition Weblog

The findings were presented at a Society for General Microbiology's meeting by Professor Lynne Macaskie from a research team at Birmingham University. Though, the process was first discovered back in 1995 but at the time was not economical.

In early research a very expensive additive was used and the low cost of uranium just didn't make it feasible. But the discovery of inositol phosphate being six-times more effective--as well as a cheap waste material--made the venture more viable.

Not too shocking. More countries are clearly looking to expand their nuclear technologies and the price of uranium is likely to increase. Another option for bringing down the cost of inostiol phosphate is that it can easily be obtained from agriculture waste.

"The UK has no natural uranium reserves, although a significant amount of uranium is produced in nuclear wastes. There is no global shortage of uranium but from the point of view of energy security the EU needs to be able to recover as much uranium as possible from mine run-offs (which in any case pollute the environment) as well as recycling as much uranium as possible from nuclear wastes," commented Professor Macaskie.

And while the cost of uranium concerns me as much as the next guy (actually, I don't really care that much) there is obviously huge environmental and health impacts to this process.

"By using a cheap feedstock easily obtained from plant wastes we have shown that an economic, scalable process for uranium recovery is possible," Macaskie ended.

Source: Science Daily

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