Detoxifying Nuclear Waste and Strontium 90 with Algae

By: Kyle Farquharson - Published: Apr 22, 2011 • References: northwestern.edu and ecogeek.org
A freshwater algae capable of sequestering the element strontium may someday assist in the clean-up of nuclear waste, according to scientists at Northwestern University and the Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago. In lab tests, Closterium moniliferum, a bright green denizen of pond water, soaked up non-radioactive isotopes of strontium--the hope is that the same effect will occur when the algae are introduced to radioactive (and highly toxic) strontium 90.

Chemically similar to calcium, strontium 90 is often responsible for bone cancer in areas afflicted by nuclear fallout, and is difficult to weed out from nuclear waste. In the United States alone, strontium 90 permeates almost 80 million gallons of stored nuclear sludge. Scientists are optimistic that the algae, if successful in the presence of strontium 90, will aid in either the remediation of nuclear waste, clean-up after a spill, or in the waste disposal process.

Photo Credits:
Northwestern University | Flickr | Flickr