Inventory of microbiological species living in spent nuclear fuel pools

SCK•CEN Mentor

Monsieurs Pieter,, +32 (0)14 33 21 08

Expert group


SCK•CEN Co-mentor

Van Eesbeeck Valérie,, +32 (0)14 33 27 54


After being used as nuclear fuel inside power plants, spent nuclear fuel must be stored underwater in nuclear pool racks in order to cool down before being safely disposed while ensuring protection against radiation. Remarkably, despite the low-nutrient environment combined with the highly radioactive character of the water and the presence of dissolved radioactive metals, microbial growth is not fully prevented. Indeed, bacteria, yeast and unicellular algae have previously been detected in spent nuclear fuel pools, potentially leading to biofilm formation and / or microbial-initiated corrosion. Microorganisms identified in such environments represent a unique opportunity to gain new knowledge in mechanisms involved in resistance to ionizing radiation. Moreover, detailed characterization of those highly radiation-resistant microorganisms might result in good candidates to be used in the development of bioremediation methodologies for radionuclide-contaminated environments.


The aim of this project is to assess the presence of microbial communities inside spent nuclear fuel pools of Belgian and French reactors (e.g. BR2 from SCK•CEN and OSIRIS from CEA) and to phenotypically characterize the isolated species.

In addition to the microbiological population present in planktonic form, special attention will also be given to biofilms.

In order to characterize the microbial communities, culture-based as well as culture-independent methods will be used. For the culture-independent methods, a metagenomics approach using 16S and 18S rRNA amplicon sequencing will be adopted. The sequencing data will be analyzed using an in-housed developed pipeline for the analysis of bioinformatics data. In order to allow for the identification of proteins involved in radiation resistance in oligotrophic environments, a metaproteomics approach will also be used. The expertise for this part of the project - including the bioinformatics analysis - is at hand within the CEA research group of Dr. Armengaud.

The minimum diploma level of the candidate needs to be

Master of sciences , Master of sciences in engineering

The candidate needs to have a background in

Bio-engineering , Biology , Informatics