DNA labs to tackle mystery growth on SRS nuclear waste

Savannah River Site will seek outside help in its quest to define a mysterious, cobweblike growth that thrives on spent nuclear fuel.


“Analysis so far shows that bacteria are present in this material,” SRS spokesman Jim Giusti said. “We presently know nothing of its origin, how this material was formed or if this is the result of biological activity.”

The “white, stringlike” substance was discovered in October growing among spent fuel assemblies submerged in pools in the U.S. Department of Energy site’s L Area, where nuclear materials from foreign and domestic research reactors are stored and guarded.

Savannah River National Labora­tory gathered samples of the growth, which will be analyzed at two DNA labs – the Georgia Genomics Facility at the University of Georgia and EnGenCore at the University of South Carolina.

Although scientists aren’t sure exactly what the material is, the mysterious lint appears to be spreading.

Moderate cobweb growth has been observed on about 7 percent of the stored nuclear material, with at least some level of growth found on 40 percent of the spent fuel.

“It seems to like the fuel,” Giusti said. “And it doesn’t seem to care which kind of fuel – or how long it’s been in the basin.”

Results from DNA sampling are expected in late March or April.

The existence of the growth, first reported in December by The Augusta Chronicle, was disclosed in a declassified report filed by the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, which speculated the material was “biological in nature.”