Certain bacteria could live off nuclear waste and in the process of doing so, make it safer to store.
That’s according to researchers at the University of Manchester, who have shown certain microbes can make use of radioactive particles such as uranium and neptunium in place of oxygen.
In doing so, they convert these dangerous molecules into less mobile and harmful forms.
The UK is home to about 4.5 million cubic metres of nuclear waste, most of which is currently stored in ponds and silos at surface level at Sellafield in Cumbria.
It will eventually be stored deep underground in repositories encased in cement but the government has yet to decide on a suitable site.
Jonathan Lloyd, Geomicrobiologist at the University of Manchester, was part of a team that looked into how bacteria could interact with stored nuclear waste.
He said: “When we’ve studied microbial systems under similar doses to what you would have around these waste forms, it doesn’t kill them. If anything, it actually stimulates the microbes down there.”
He added the bacteria use the carbon source and degrade it, keeping radioactive particles in solid form and so keeping them in place.