In a macabre When Life Deals You Lemons – Make Lemonade kind of news item: Researchers are considering that perhaps we could safely reuse radioactive land: to grow crops for biofuel.
Growing food is still too dangerous in southeastern Belarus because the region is still so contaminated by fallout from Chernobyl that crops grown there cannot safely be eaten by humans for hundreds of years, until the radioactive isotopes decay.
Yet 1.5 million mostly older people have not left, and some are in fact growing some grain on the contaminated land anyway. The radioactive material concentrates in roots and stalks, which they just plough back into the ground after harvesting. As a result; the soil is still almost as contaminated now as it was after the accident.
Things could not be much worse there than they are now and the Belarus government is open to new ideas. So when an Irish company had the idea of remediating the soil by planting a biofuel crop, Belarus was more open to the idea than you might imagine:
Belarus already has laws to encourage foreign investment in biofuels including favourable tax policy to get 25% of its energy from renewables, including biofuels, within the next five years.
Greenfield Project Management wants to plant sugar beets and convert them into ethanol on-site. The beets would be radioactive, but the residue would not get plowed back into the soil as it is now, but could theoretically be disposed of in nuclear waste-treatment facilities. The radioctive material would be distilled out in the distillation process.
In theory the beets would pull radioactive material out of the soil to speed cleanup from centuries to decades.
Greenfield plans to build the first biofuels distillery next year near one of the most contaminated areas, and if successful, — and if they can get funding;10 more.
The EU needs 6 billion gallons of biofuel by 2020 to meet green fuel targets and there is little land in Europe.
Radiaoctive soil remediation would certainly bypass the biofuel question of food versus Fuel!
One of Greenfield’s partners will be Belbiopharm, a local biotech company that wants to develop genetically modified crops designed to clean the soil more quickly, and both firms are confident that this will be safe.
As you can imagine, there are skeptics. (For one thing, this would be disposed of at the local existing nuclear waste treatment site.)
But; if you don’t have a dream…
Image via Fishki
Via the The New Republic
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