CONTAMINATED lands, blighted by fallout from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, could be cleaned up in a clever way: by growing biofuels. Belarus, the country affected by much of the fallout, is planning to use the crops to suck up the radioactive strontium and caesium and make the soil fit to grow food again within decades rather than hundreds of years. A 40,000 square kilometre area of south-east Belarus is so stuffed with radioactive isotopes that rained down from the nearby Chernobyl nuclear power station in 1986 that it won't be fit for growing food for hundreds of years, as the isotopes won't have decayed sufficiently. But this week a team of Irish biofuels technologists is in the capital, Minsk, hoping to do a deal with state agencies to buy radioactive sugar beet and other crops grown on the contaminated land to make biofuels for sale across Europe. The company, Greenfield Project Management, insists no radioactive material will get into the biofuel as only ethanol is distilled out. "In distillation, only the most volatile compounds rise up the tube. Everything else is left behind," says Basil Miller of Greenfield. The heavy radioactive residues will be burned in a power station, producing a concentrated "radioactive ash". This can be disposed of at existing treatment works for nuclear waste, he says.
More at New Scientist