Microbiological reduction of soluble U(VI) to insoluble U(IV) has been proposed as a remediation strategy for uranium-contaminated groundwater. Nitrate is a common co-contaminant with uranium. Nitrate inhibited U(VI) reduction in acetate-amended aquifer sediments collected from a uranium-contaminated site in New Mexico. Once nitrate was depleted, both U(VI) and Fe(III) were reduced concurrently. When nitrate was added to sediments in which U(VI) had been reduced, U(VI) reappeared in solution. Parallel studies with the dissimilatory Fe(III)-, U(VI)- and nitrate-reducing microorganism, Geobacter metallireducens, demonstrated that nitrate inhibited reduction of Fe(III) and U(VI) in cell suspensions of cells that had been grown with nitrate as the electron acceptor, but not in Fe(III)-grown cells. Suspensions of nitrate-grown G. metallireducens oxidized Fe(II) and U(IV) with nitrate as the electron acceptor. U(IV) oxidation was accelerated when Fe(II) was also added, presumably due to the Fe(III) being formed abiotically oxidizing U(IV). These studies demonstrate that although the presence of nitrate is not likely to be an impediment to the bioremediation of uranium contamination with microbial U(VI) reduction, it is necessary to reduce nitrate before U(VI) can be reduced. These results also suggest that anaerobic oxidation of U(IV) to U(VI) with nitrate serving as the electron acceptor may provide a novel strategy for solubilizing and extracting microbial U(IV) precipitates from the subsurface.
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