Microbial leaching of uranium and other trace elements from shale mine tailings at Ranstad
Journal article, 2004
High levels of heavy metals have been found in the surroundings of the closed uranium (U) mine in Ranstad in southern Sweden. These findings cannot be explained entirely by abiotic processes. It was not until recently that biology was taken into account in the discussion about mobilization of metals at this site. It is well known that bacteria produce short-chain organic acids and element-specific ligands (siderophores) that are able to change pH and enhance chelation, which results in increased mobilization of many trace elements. Other (nonessential) elements, such as thallium (Tl), lanthanides, and actinides, may also be mobilized as a result of such bacterial action. This paper describes the mobilization of U and other elements from U ores by bacteria. Three common siderophore-producing bacterial species, Pseudomonas fluorescens, Shewanella putrefaciens and Pseudomonas stutzeri, were incubated in a chemically defined medium supplemented with tailings material with a content of 0.0013% U by weight, which had been exposed to natural weathering for 30 years. Nonleached U ore (0.61% U by weight) from the same area was incubated with P. fluorescens and S. putrefaciens for comparison. P. fluorescens grown with ore caused a change in pH in the growth medium from 4.7 to 9.3, which was significantly higher than for the other two species, for which pH was about 5.2. P. fluorescens was the only species that thrived and mobilized measurable amounts of U from the two ores, leaching out 0.0010.005% of the total amount of U from both. The release of U is attributed to the production of pyoverdine chelators, since U could not be detected either in sterile controls or in the experiments with the other two bacteria. P. fluorescens also doubled the chromium (Cr) concentration in solution as compared with the sterile controls, whereas P. stutzeri and S. putrefaciens caused a five to sixfold increase in Cr concentration. Thallium, cobalt (Co), zinc (Zn), manganese (Mn), and vanadium (V) concentrations initially resembled those in the sterile controls, but from day 2 of the experiment, a decrease was observed. The difference in leaching behavior between the bacteria used in this study is likely to have been due to the production of different chelators rather than being an effect of pH, since many metals have low solubility at neutral to alkaline pH. This study using laboratory incubations shows that mobilization of U from ore can occur aerobically at neutral to alkaline conditions, which may be an important process behind the high content of heavy metals in the surroundings of the closed U mine at Ranstad.
Mobilization of trace elements