Microalgae and aquatic plants could help remove radioactive pollution from waters around the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, Japanese researchers claim.
A powerful earthquake and devastating tsunami caused heavy damage to the Fukushima 1 Nuclear Power Plant in March 2011. The plant suffered multiple meltdowns and subsequently released large quantities of radioactivity into the atmosphere.
"The volume of radio-polluted water is increasing daily because of the continuous injection of cool water and the incurrent of underground water into the still defective reactor," the researchers say in their study.
A research group led by Yoshihiro Shiraiwa of the University of Tsukuba said that 17 microalgae and aquatic plants efficiently absorb radioactive cesium, iodine and strontium, which constitutes the radioactive pollution in the environment.
Specifically, a eustigmatophycean unicellular algal strain, nak 9, was found to be the most proficient. It eliminated up to 90 percent of cesium, without any need for further treatment. The researchers said that the algae decreased radio pollution by accumulating cesium on its cell surface.
Since the plant strains are easy to grow and dry, they could be used to eliminate radioactive cesium from radio-polluted water.
The findings could help groups looking to develop bio remedial methods to reduce radioactive contamination from the wild and agricultural areas and lower the volume of the polluted water in and around Fukushima.
"Biological concentration of radionuclides is an essential technology for bioremediation of radio-polluted soils and water," Shiraiwa, lead author of the study, said in a press release. "Therefore our results provide an important strategy for decreasing radiopollution in the Fukushima area."
Japan's Ministry of Energy has estimated that the decontamination of the world's biggest environmental disasters will cost about $35 billion.