Recent scientific discovery could lead to efficient and effective clean up of nuclear accidents and radioactive spills like that of the Fukushima nuclear facility in Japan. It is known that algae can secrete drugs and biofuels but the research at Northwestern University has identified that the common algae, closterioum moniliferum, can turn strontium into crystals. This could help in removing the hazardous strontium-90 isotope from an accident site.
What makes strontium-90 dangerous is the fact that its atomic properties are like that of calcium. Remember that calcium can be in our blood, bones and even bone marrow. Radioactive strontium-90 can end up in those same places. However, in radioactive waste, there is far more calcium than there is strontium – billions more. Therefore, rather than processing everything, there is a need to identify (or isolate) the strontium from calcium to accelerate cleanup operations.
This is where the algae can help. What closterioum moniliferum really want is barium. The good thing is that strontium’s size and properties are somewhere midway that of barium and calcium. This causes the algae to process strontium while ignoring calcium. And since algae are easy to culture, they can be produced and spread on a nuclear accident site and will start crystallizing strontium within minutes of propagation.