Cleaning Up Chernobyl With Beets

The land around Chernobyl is contaminated with fallout that will not decay for hundreds of years. Forty thousand square kilometers are unfit for growing food; however, Irish biofuel technologists believe that the land could still be used to grow foods like sugar beets.

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.

Greenfield plans to build the first biofuels distillery next year at Mozyr, close to one of the most contaminated areas (see map). The 500 million plant will turn half a million cubic metres of crops a year into 700 million litres of biofuels, starting in 2011.

SF fans may recall the scooters from Gregory Benford's stark classic Against Infinity, a 1983 novel in which genetically modified organisms were used to soak up ammonia-based compounds and digest them, producing oxygen-bearing compounds useful to human beings.

Via New Scientist.

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