Direct Meta-Analyses Reveal Unexpected Microbial Life in the Highly Radioactive Water of an Operating Nuclear Reactor Core

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  • Université Paris-Saclay
  • UGA - University of Grenoble
  • CEA Saclay - Commissariat à l'énergie atomique

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The pools of nuclear reactor facilities constitute harsh environments for life, bathed with ionizing radiation, filled with demineralized water and containing toxic radioactive elements. The very few studies published to date have explored water pools used to store spent nuclear fuels. Due to access restrictions and strong handling constraints related to the high radioactivity level, nothing is presently known about life in water pools that directly cool nuclear cores. In this work, we investigated the microbial communities in the cooling pool of the French Osiris nuclear reactor using direct meta-omics approaches, namely, DNA metabarcoding and proteotyping based on 16S ribosomal RNA gene sequencing and on peptide analysis, respectively. We identified 25 genera in the highly radioactive core water supply during operation with radionuclide activity higher than 3 109 Bq/m3. The prevailing genera Variovorax and Sphingomonas at operation were supplanted by Methylobacterium, Asanoa, and Streptomyces during shutdown. Variovorax might use dihydrogen produced by water radiolysis as an energy source.


Original languageEnglish
Article number8121857
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 25 Nov 2020


  • Environmental microbiome, Nuclear reactor, Irradiation, Metabarcoding, 16S rRNA, Amplicon sequencing, Proteotyping

ID: 6978499