21 December 2007
NPO Cleaning up Chernobyl Soil
A nonprofit organization in Nagoya has begun a soil reclamation project using rape blossoms for reviving Narodichi, in the Narodytsky district of Ukraine, which was contaminated by the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster.
The 10,300 people who live in the district, which lies about 70 kilometers north of the Chernobyl nuclear power station, reportedly still suffer from internal irradiation as they continue to consume vegetables grown in the contaminated soil. Under a five-year project, the 1,280-member Association to Help Chernobyl, Chubu District, Japan, plans to clean the soil using rape.
Rape tends to absorb radioisotopes, such as cesium-137 and strontium-90, in a similar manner to calcium and minerals, thereby cleaning the soil.
According to the NPO, the seeds of the plant can then be made into cooking oil or biodiesel fuel for cultivating machinery. Rapeseed oil is radiation free and the remaining polluted soil can be disposed of as low-level radioactive substances, it said.
Alternatively, ground-up remains of seeds and stems of the plant can be fermented to produce methane gas--also radiation free--for power generation.
The special quality of rape caught the attention of environmental scientist Masaharu Kawata, 63, a member of the NPO, after he read a report on the land reclamation mechanism of plants. Kawata and other NPO members then focused on the plant.
Kawata teaches chemical biology at Yokkaichi University in Yokkaichi, Mie Prefecture, as a part-time lecturer.
In April, NPO members sowed rape on two hectares of contaminated land still designated as off-limits, even though 21 years have passed since the Chernobyl disaster.
They harvested three tons of rape seeds in August. A month later, they sowed the same amount of seeds.
The NPO hopes to start trial production of biodiesel fuel and methane gas by summer next year.
"We will spend five years establishing a textbook model that can be expanded by local people," Kawata said.
The NPO is seeking to raise 40 million yen to complete what it calls the Narodichi Revival Rapeseed Project.
Since 1990, the NPO has donated incubators, an electrocardiograph and baby formula to victims of the accident.
It has offered scholarships to 110 children and youths, some of whom have been admitted to universities.
Thanks to the NPO's financial assistance, a children's hospital run by the Zitomyr Oblast (administrative division) now has an intensive care unit.
For further information, call the NPO at (052) 836-1073 on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m (Japanese only).