Necessity is the mother of invention, and the damaged created by the Tohoku earthquake and subsequent Fukushima Daiichi disaster has created an urgent need for solutions to the environmental problems Japan faces.

Working with various universities across Japan, the Institute of Physical and Chemical Research, better known as RIKEN have developed a new method of decontaminating water containing radioactive materials.  It uses a type of algae that has been shown to “eat” radioactive cesium.

In the initial experiment, algae were grown in a 3L tank of water contaminated with 900 becquerels of radioactive cesium.  The algae grow quickly helped by light sent through a fiber optic line. The light is gathered from the sun with a 1 meter radius, 4 centimeter thick lens and focused through a fiber optic line going into the middle of the water emitting light in all directions.

In the same way many plants absorb carbon dioxide, this algae’s photosynthesis, also triggered by the sunlight, absorbs the cesium.  In 3 months, nearly 90% of the radioactive material was successfully removed from the water.

Having passed its trial experiments, researchers will conduct another one under real conditions using a contaminated rice paddy in Fukushima Prefecture.  Starting in the middle of April, if this experiment is successful scientists hope this technique can be applied all over affected areas.

Source: Yomiuri Online  (Japanese)