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Radiation-tolerant algae could be used to clean up wastewater from nuclear plants

April 17, 2014
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A species of radiation-tolerant algae may soon be used to clean up effluent and wastewater produced by nuclear facilities, according to the Insitiution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE).

A French research team from Grenoble University, Montpellier University, Institut Laue-Langevin and the Atomic Energy and Alternative Energies Commission – Division of Nuclear Energy discoverd the micro-alga in a used fuel cell storage pool at a nuclear facility. They found it is capable of withstanding extreme doses of radiation.

The alga -- called Coccomyxa actinabiotis -- uses photosynthesis and metabolic processes to break down contaminants. The researchers are currently developing a pilot-scale treatment unit, based on the micro-alga, to remove effluents including carbon-14, uranium-238 and caesium-137.

“Current technologies for the chemically engineered cleaning of nuclear effluents are robust and efficient. However, processes like evaporation, filtration, sorption and ion exchange can be expensive," commented IChemE Chief Executive David Brown.

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“Work in other industries indicates that decontamination using bioremediation technologies could be equally as efficient, but cheaper and more environmentally friendly. But none is currently operational in highly radioactive environments. The researchers in France are breaking new ground by helping us to understand the feasibility of using algae for the highly controlled nuclear decontamination process, including issues such as fouling, pore size and re-use of this remarkable alga," he said.

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