Common Pond Algae Can Sequester High-Level Radioactive Waste (Strontium-90)


Photo: Wikipedia, CC, and Public domain.
Closterium Moniliferum VS. Radioactive Strontium-90
One of the problems of dealing with nuclear waste is that the more dangerous byproducts are often mixed in with low-level waste, and it can be very complex to separate them. But researchers at Northwestern University and Argonne National Laboratory have discovered that a common freshwater algae can remove strontium-90 from water and sequester it inside solid barium-strontium-sulfate crystals. Nature is showing us the way, we just need to take notes...
Photo: Wikipedia, CC

Strontium 90 has a half-life of about 30 years, is chemically very similar to calcium and thus is drawn to bone. The cumulative cancer risk from strontium 90 exposure when strontium is bound in bones for many years is very high.

The crescent-shaped, single-celled organism studied by Joester and his colleagues naturally makes biominerals that include non-radioactive strontium, and it can differentiate strontium from calcium -- a rare feat. The researchers want to learn more about this selectivity because calcium is present in far greater abundance than strontium in nuclear waste, but calcium is harmless. By concentrating the radioactive strontium (Sr-90) in the form of solid crystals with very low solubility, the dangerous high-level waste could be isolated from the rest and dealt with separately. (source)

The algae could potentially be used for bioremediation, or the mechanism used by the algae could be isolated and improved separately to design an even more selective process. This is a good example of learning from the processes that have been designed by evolutionary trial-and-error over millions of years rather than try to re-invent the wheel from scratch.


Photo: Wikipedia, CC

This could be useful in Japan for the eventual decontamination of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. It's not ready now, but the decontamination will very likely take many years, so maybe at some point it'll be used.

Via Science Daily
More on Radioactivity
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-March 15: 6 Important Questions About the Crisis at Japanese Nuclear Power Plants
-March 16: Update on Japan's Nuclear Crisis at Fukushima I
-March 17: Ongoing Crisis at Japan's Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant
-March 18: Japan's Nuclear Crisis, One Week Later
-March 21: Limited Progress Cooling Fukushima's Nuclear Reactors
-March 22: Light at the End of the Tunnel for Japan's Nuclear Crisis?
-March 23: Japan Nuclear Crisis: External Power Reconnected at Fukushima 1
-March 24: Japan Nuclear Crisis: Slow Progress with Emergency Cooling Systems
-March 25: Japan's Nuclear Crisis: 2 Weeks After the Mega-Quake & Tsunami
-March 30: Japan's Nuclear Crisis: 19 Days Later and Not Much Better
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