Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Chernobyl Sunflower Project

Sunflowers can clean up nuclear waste. I find it so beautiful...

This sunflower project is one of many international efforts at phytoremediation-the use of plants to absorb pollutants from air, water, and soil. In the United States, both government agencies and private companies, including Exxon Corp. and DuPont are testing a variety of plants to see if they can do some of the dirty work of cleaning up such pollutants as radioactive material, lead, selenium selenium (səlē`nēəm), nonmetallic chemical element; symbol Se; at. no. 34; at. wt. 78.96; m.p. 217°C;; b.p. about 685°C;; sp. gr. 4.81 at 20°C;; valence −2, +4, or +6. , and oil.

Many plants, it turns out, have a taste for these stubborn contaminants.

The Chernobyl sunflower project began in 1994. That summer, researchers from Phytotech, a phytoremediation company in Monmouth Junction, N.J., and their government and university colleagues installed the rafts.

Together, they held 24 sunflowers and dotted a 75-square-meter pond located 1 kilometer from the Chernobyl reactor, says Burt Ensley, Phytotech's president. The plants preferentially absorb cesium and strontium from a mixture of metals, he notes. The plants don't metabolize the radionuclides, but the cesium stays in the roots and most of the strontium moves to the shoots. The company disposes of the plants as radioactive waste after about 3 weeks on the pond.

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