Table_1_Microbial Degradation of Cellulosic Material and Gas Generation: Implications for the Management of Low- and Intermediate-Level Radioactive Waste.DOCX

Deep geologic repositories (DGR) in Canada are designed to contain and isolate low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste. Microbial degradation of the waste potentially produces methane, carbon dioxide and hydrogen gas. The generation of these gases increase rock cavity pressure and limit water ingress which delays the mobility of water soluble radionuclides. The objective of this study was to measure gas pressure and composition over 7 years in experiments containing cellulosic material with various starting conditions relevant to a DGR and to identify micro-organisms generating gas. For this purpose, we conducted experiments in glass bottles containing (1) wet cellulosic material, (2) wet cellulosic material with compost Maker, and (3) wet cellulosic material with compost Accelerator. Results demonstrated that compost accelerated the pressure build-up in the containers and that methane gas was produced in one experiment with compost and one experiment without compost because the pH remained neutral for the duration of the 464 days experiment. Methane was not formed in the other experiment because the pH became acidic. Once the pressure became similar in all containers after 464 days, we then monitored gas pressure and composition in glass bottle containing wet cellulosic material in (1) acidic conditions, (2) neutral conditions, and (3) with an enzyme that accelerated degradation of cellulose over 1965 days. In these experiments, acetogenic bacteria degraded cellulose and produced acetic acid, which acidity suppressed methane production. Microbial community analyses suggested a diverse community of archaea, bacteria and fungi actively degrading cellulose. DNA analyses also confirmed the presence of methanogens and acetogens in our experiments. This study suggests that methane gas will be generated in DGRs if pH remains neutral. However, our results showed that microbial degradation of cellulose not only generated gas, but also generated acidity. This finding is important as acids can limit bentonite swelling and potentially degrade cement and rock barriers, thus this requires consideration in the safety case as appropriate.