Back in March 2011, an energy accident took place at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Fukushima, started by the tsunami that came about following the Tohoku earthquake. Immediately after the quake happened, the active reactors in the plant shut down their fission reactions but the emergency generators were destroyed by the tsunami, so nuclear meltdowns, chemical explosions and the release of radioactive material occurred because of insufficient cooling on site.
Now, researchers from Kazan Federal University in Russia and Rice University in the US have collaborated on a project to extract radioactivity from local water sources, using activated carbon filters that are very efficient at absorbing radioactive metal cations like strontium and cesium.
The oxidatively modified carbon (OMC) material that the researchers use is inexpensive and able to trap common radioactive elements easily, co-author of the report James Tour from Rice explained. It makes use of the porous nature of two sources of carbon – one, a coke-derived powder called C-seal F that is added to drilling fluids, and a carbon-heavy mineral called shungite that’s typically found in Russia.
“Just passing contaminated water through OMC filters will extract the radioactive elements and permit safe discharge to the ocean. This could be a major advance for the clean-up effort at Fukushima,” he explained.
Before this, researchers at Lomonosov Moscow State University and Mr Tour had found a way to remove radionuclides from water using graphene oxide, but this new study suggests that OMC is easier and also less expensive to process.