An experiment to test the power of sunflowers to absorb toxic radiation has failed to prove effective near the site of the nuclear disaster at Fukushima, Japan. The Asahi Shimbun reports that the sunflowers removed only .05 percent of the radioactive cesium in the ground, while the removal of just over an inch (3 centimeters) of topsoil along with grass removed up to 97 percent of the radioactive cesium. It was hoped that sunflowers would concentrate radioactive waste and could then be removed more easily than the wholesale “scraping” of soil and compost that it seems will be required.
In the meantime scientists are studying ways to decontaminate the forests near the nuclear accident site. According to the Japan Times, the prefecture (county) where the plant is located is 70% forested, and efforts to date have focused on decontaminating urban areas. Removing the contaminated soil and other material from the forest requires such extreme removal methods that the forest’s ecosystem will be seriously damaged.
Whether the radiation is removed by scraping soil or removing plant matter, the radioactive waste still needs to be safely stored. The government has not yet selected a permanent storage site for the tons of soil and debris that needs to be sequestered.
Anti-Nuclear Protests Hit Tokyo
The Japanese public’s trust in nuclear power is clearly ebbing, as tens of thousands of citizens took to the streets of Tokyo today (Monday) to protest nuclear power. Police estimated the crowd at 20,000 (while organizers claimed more) as protesters carried signs saying “Sayonara Nuclear Power” to urge the government to eliminate nuclear power from the nation’s energy grid. Nuclear accounted for 30 percent of Japan’s energy use prior to the Fukushima incident. There have been energy shortages as 30 of the country’s 54 reactors have been taken off line to enable inspections. Large businesses have been asked to take measures to conserve energy, such as adjusting thermostats, varying schedules around peak demand and cutting back on overtime.
It has been six months since three of the Fukushima nuclear plant’s six reactors experienced meltdowns following a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami. Surrounding air, soil and water was contaminated and 100,000 residents were forced to evacuate.
Photo: Nate Grigg Creative Commons license via Flickr
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