Four years following the disastrous Fukushima Nuclear Plant spill in Japan the farmland remains contaminated. Since the catastrophic event Researchers have been on a mission to discover new ways to minimize the environmental impact that results from toxic spills like Fukushima.
The farmland and surrounding plants nearby were all contaminated by the Nuclear plant’s deadly spill. Of the affected land and plant life that did not die, the surviving plant life have remained highly contaminated and still hold much higher than normal amounts of radiocesium.
Radicesium is a radioactive isotope recovered from the waste of nuclear reactors in nuclear power plants. Radicessium, is of course, not a naturally occurring substance and when absorbed by plants results in plant growth retardation . With the Fukushima spill, the most concerning contamination to the plants comes from within the radicessium family; cesium-134 and cesium-137. These two are a major concern because of the slow rate at which they cause a plant to decay. Adding to this is the fact that plants readily absorb cesium due to its similarity to a vital plant nutrient, potassium and it’s water solubility.
After observing this, researchers from RIKEN Center for Sustainable Resource Science in Japan started investigating the possiblilty of a method to stop the degredation in plants affected by cesium uptake. They began by using seedlings from a plant Arabidopsis thaliana and then tested 10,000 synthetic compounds with it to see if they could reverse the harmful effects of cesium. Out of all the synthetic compounds, five of these showed a high tolerance to cesium. These five compounds are called CsTolen A, B, C, D and E.
What the researchers discovered through Quantum mechanical modeling was that the compound CsTolen binds to cesium in aqueous solutions thus reducing the amount of cesium that could be absorbed by the plants. This restriction assisted the plants in being able to absorb thing they really needed to sustain life, like potassium. The team found that “when plants were germinated and grown in cesium-contaminated soil, applying CsTolen A significantly reduced the amount of cesium absorption and resulted in greater plant growth.”(RIKEN) This could lead to news ways to inhibit the harmful effects of contamination on plants and life derived from them.
To learn more about this fascinating discovery and it’s potential implications for the future, read the full study published in Scientific Reports.