Real flower-power

Published: Thursday 15 October 1998

Sunflowers and spinach could be used to clean up spillage of radioactivity from around nuclear plants if an experiment by the British nuclear industry proves successful. British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) is growing dwarf sunflowers, spinach, sugar beet and Indian mustard on an 80-metre-stretch of land contaminated by leaks from the Bradwell nuclear power station in Essex, UK. The company hopes to remove radioactivity from the soil by the plants' natural ability to absorb nutrients through their roots. The ground at Bradwell was polluted in the 1970s by a leakage of liquid waste, which contained caesium 137, from an underground effluent pipe. Three years back, after heavy rain brought some of the radioactive material to the surface, sections of the pipe and surrounding soil were dug out and disposed off. BNFL hopes that the plants will be able to reduce the contamination by between 10 and 20 per cent. Further reductions should be possible by planting more crops next year.

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