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Newly discovered organisms to help clean up nuclear waste

15-01-2013: The nuclear industry generates radioactive toxic waste, which needs to be decontaminated inside the facilities themselves and of the effluents released into the environment. Radionuclide decontamination is currently performed using physico-chemical methods and while they work well, they are expensive, can produce secondary toxic sludge and do not completely remove 14C.

Now, scientists in France have reported a new autotrophic green microalgae called Coccomyxa actinabiotis nov. sp., isolated from a radioactive nuclear site, which is extremely radioresistant (most “normal” organisms are killed by the radioactivity) and strongly accumulates radionuclides, including 238U, 137Cs, 110mAg, 60Co, 54Mn, 65Zn and 14C. In 1 hour, the microalga was as effective as the conventional physico-chemical ion-exchangers to purify nuclear effluents. It could be used to complement existing decontamination protocols in industry and also for the clean-up of accidentally contaminated water.

Original publication:
C Rivasseau et al, Energy Environ. Sci., 2013.

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