With airborne radioactivity from Fukushima's still-critical damaged reactors circling the globe and more likely on the way from the mass incineration of earthquake debris, individuals are certainly justified in wanting to shield themselves from the fallout, especially when it shows up in their food and drink. Now, to address concerns about nuclear contamination in juice, milk and even water, a team of researchers led by Allen Apblett from Oklahoma State University (OSU) has announced development of a capsule that, when dropped in liquid, can easily and effectively remove numerous radioactive substances and thus prevent the consumer from ingesting them.
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The nuclear industry-proven radionuclide-busting technology is already well on its way to commercialization and can be sized up to accommodate large industrial food processors or scaled down for use at home in the kitchen.
"We repurposed and repackaged for radioactive decontamination of water and beverages a tried-and-true process that originally was developed to mine the oceans for uranium and remove uranium and heavy metals from heavily contaminated water," Apblett said. "The accident at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan and ongoing concerns about possible terrorist use of nuclear materials that may contaminate food and water led us to shift the focus of this technology," he added.
A major component of the OSU team's process is metal oxide nanoparticles which bind or react with radioactive substances and other heavy metals and effectively remove them from solution. Metal oxides form when metals combine with oxygen, rust being a perfect example. By loading a porous capsule with nanoparticles and stirring it around in contaminated liquid, it acts as a sort of "reverse tea bag" and absorbs actinide metals such as uranium and plutonium (see bottom row of periodic table below) along with heavy metals like lead and arsenic to (in the lab, at least) undetectable levels. The capsule can then be discarded, and the liquid safely consumed.
Within months after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan last year, the Nuclear Engineering department at UC Berkeley detected elevated levels of radioactive cesium (wind-blown from Fukushima) in milk produced around the San Francisco area, so it would seem that OSU's nanoparticle solution for radiation-laced beverages has a ready and willing market. Let's just hope they get their capsules to us before too much more time passes. The big question is, what do we do with them after they've done their job?
The OSU team presented their findings at the 243rd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society in San Diego, California.
Source: American Chemical SocietyView gallery - 3 images