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Technetium: A toxic waste product of the nuclear fuel cycle: Effects on soybean growth and development

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Technetium-99 (99Tc) is formed in significant amounts (6.2% fission yield) during fission in both nuclear reactors and nuclear bombs. The effects of technetium on soybeans (Glycine max) were studied in relation to (a) cytochemical events in the apical meristems of germinating seedlings; (b) growth responses to 0, 0.04, 0.2, 1.0, 5.0, and 20.0 ppm Tc; (c) growth responses to varying levels of Tc after a prior 5-day germination on Tc-free media, and (d) response to Tc in the presence of added manganese.

By 20 days, reductions in growth were evident at all levels of Tc except 0.04 ppm (Experiment 2). Root growth was most severely affected, and seedling abnormality at 20 ppm was fivefold greater than that of the controls. The effect of 20 ppm Tc was evident at 10 days when the accumulated absorption dose was approximately 25 rads. The first evidence of damage at this dose was a delay in the initiation of the first trifoliate leaf. The shoot meristem size was 1.2-fold smaller than that of the control; however, there was no cytological evidence of radiation-induced damage. Observation of mitotic figures did not reveal any chromosome aberrations, micronuclei, or chromosome bridges. The lowest level of Tc showing toxicity was 0.2 ppm which resulted in a 31% reduction in growth at 20 days. The accumulated dose was 0.5 rad (0.025 rad/day) and thus it seems unlikely that the rapid inhibition of growth and development is due to radiological toxicity. It is quite probable that the growth effects are due to chemical toxicity possibly due to nutrient competition and/or substitution in uptake or metabolism. However, extremely low doses of radiation have been shown to delay the onset of DNA synthesis (possibly by membrane effects) inTradescantia and until the actual mechanism of Tc inhibition is determined a radiation effect cannot be totally ruled out.

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This research was partially supported by ERDA Contract EY-76-S-02-4139

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Berlyn, G.P., Dhillon, S.S. & Koslow, E.E. Technetium: A toxic waste product of the nuclear fuel cycle: Effects on soybean growth and development. Environmental Management 4, 149–156 (1980). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01866511

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Key words

  • Abnormality index
  • Fresh weight
  • Growth
  • Manganese
  • Soybeans
  • Technetium-99