NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Novel Approach To The Nuclear Waste Problem

February 29, 1996

While the federal government is spending billions on expensive dredging, biological and filtration techniques to remove radioactive and other toxic metals from soil and water, a small New Jersey company is combating the problem with -- sunflowers.

In a report presented at a scientific meeting yesterday, the president of Phytotech, Inc. said it used special strains of sunflowers it developed to remove as much as 95 percent of some of the most toxic contaminants in 24 hours.

Among his other revelations:

  • Over a longer period the plants demonstrated an ability to remove some radioactive metals completely through their roots.
  • Once the materials are absorbed, the plants can be dried and encapsulated for disposal.
  • Conventional clean-up methods can cost as much as $80 to clean one thousand gallons of contaminated water; but the sunflowers do it for $2 to $6.

The process is based on a technology called phytoremediation and has been tested near Chernobyl. There, Phytotech scientists grew the plants on a styrofoam raft at one end of a contaminated pond. They reported that in 12 days, the roots had cesium in concentrations 8,000 times that in the water, and strontium in concentrations 2,000 times that of the water.

Source: Amil Kumar Naj, "Sunflowers Bloom in Tests to Remove Radioactive Metals From Soil, Water," Wall Street Journal, February 29, 1996.


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