New Alga Absorbs Radioactive Isotopes

New Alga Absorbs Radioactive Isotopes
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The meltdown of Fukushima Daiichi caused the release of radioactive isotopes which contaminated the water inside the nuclear power plant as well as the surrounding environment. Innovative ways are needed to clean up this pollution.

Now, researchers in Japan report the discovery of a new algal species, called "Binos," that can absorb radioactive isotopes. (See figure.)

The top part of the figure shows where the researchers collected contaminated water and soil samples (about 20 km from the power plant). Then, they mixed either water (panel B) or soil extract (panel C) with varying amounts (10, 30 or 100 mg/mL) of Binos. Following 8 hours of incubation, they measured the percent radioactivity that was recovered by the algae. The black bars represent beta-decay (which measures the presence of the radioactive isotopes cesium-137, strontium-89 and strontium-90), and the white bars represent gamma-decay (which measures the presence of cesium-137). As shown, 100 mg/mL of Binos absorbed approximately 50-60% of the radioactive isotopes from the water sample (panel B) and about 60-75% of the radioactive isotopes in the soil extract sample (panel C).

Because this new algal species can survive in highly variable environmental conditions, it's an excellent candidate to help clean up the mess left behind by Fukushima Daiichi.

Source: Shimura H, Itoh K, Sugiyama A, Ichijo S, Ichijo M, et al. (2012) Absorption of Radionuclides from the Fukushima Nuclear Accident by a Novel Algal Strain. PLoS ONE 7(9): e44200. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0044200

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