Mind & Matter

 

Using Algae for Nuclear Remediation

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C. moniliferum, strontium-eating algae. Courtesy of Nature.

 

Japan's Fukushima nuclear trouble has not only exacerbated recovery efforts in the Tohoku region, but also limited travel to Japan altogether. I had planned to lead a group of architecture students to Japan in May, for example, but had to postpone the trip based on the U.S. State Department travel warning that remains in effect until the fallout may be adequately contained. As water exhibiting dangerous radiation levels pours from the Fukushima reactors into the ocean, it is difficult to imagine how emergency crews can sufficiently control this ongoing calamity.

In a bit of positive news, a Northwestern University researcher has recently proposed the use of algae for post-nuclear disaster remediation. Noting that C. moniliferum naturally removes strontium from water, materials scientist Minna Krejci tested the algae's ability to deposit the radioactive isotope strontium-90 safely into crystalline structures called vacuoles. Because strontium-90 is similar in its atomic makeup to calcium, it is especially dangerous because it can easily find its way into similar places, such as milk, bones, and blood. C. moniliferum can distinguish between the elements, however, and targets strontium-90 while ignoring the more prevalent calcium.

Although this bioremediation process works, questions remain about its actual application. How much algae would need to be deployed at Fukushima, for example, and how would it be administered to the affected area? Moreover, how long would C. moniliferum continue to remedy continual leaks effectively? Some complain that this process will only encapsulate strontium-90, rather than convert it to a safer substance. However, Krejci's research gives hope to a seemingly intractable and far-reaching problem.

 

 
 

Comments (1 Total)

  • Posted by: ULGC | Time: 4:09 PM Monday, April 11, 2011

    This post is very interesting. It reveals research upon how to remediate contaminated areas. I am thinking of recent and growing interest of architects and engineers on phyto-technologies which open new approaches for architecture, urbanism and engineering (or ecological architecture, ecological urbanism and ecological urbanism). Phyto-technologies can be a first and immediate response for contaminated areas such as Fukushima or Chernobyl. Greetings from France

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About the Blogger

Blaine Brownell

thumbnail image Minnesota-based architect and author Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a self-defined materials researcher and sustainable building adviser. His "Product of the Week" emails and three volumes of Transmaterial (2006, 2008, 2010) provide designers with a steady flow of inspiration—a 21st-century Grammar of Ornament. Blaine has practiced architecture in Japan and the U.S. and has been published in more than 40 design, business, and science publications. The recipient of a Fulbright fellowship for 2006–07, he researched contemporary Japanese material innovations at the Tokyo University of Science. He currently teaches architecture and co-directs the M.S. in Sustainable Design program at the University of Minnesota. His book Matter in the Floating World was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2011.