Tag: rust

3 Creative Tools for Nuclear Cleanup: Algae, Rust, and Bacteria

By Patrick Morgan | April 5, 2011 12:49 pm

In the future, nuclear clean-up workers may be getting help from some surprising sources. None of these three methods are in widespread use right now, but they show promise:

1) Algae

  • Scientists have discovered that a type of algae can precipitate strontium into crystals. This could lead to better nuclear clean-up techniques, potentially sequestering radioactive strontium-90 from tainted water into crystalline form, which is easier to contain.
  • The algae, called C. moniliferum, collects strontium in sulfate-rich vacuoles, and because strontium and barium have low solubility in sulfate solutions, they precipitate out of solution as crystals.

What’s the Context: The danger of strontium-90 is that it is chemically similar to calcium, and so can be taken up into milk, bones, and other tissues. Nuclear waste and spills can contain significant amounts of strontium; C. moniliferum is especially helpful because it can precipitate strontium but leave calcium alone (calcium is different enough from barium that the bacteria doesn’t crystallize it).

Not So Fast: Scientists don’t yet know how well the algae can withstand radioactivity, which could potentially put a damper on this clean-up method. Now, the scientists would like to find ways of increasing sulphate levels in the environment, which may in turn increase the ability of the algae to crystallize strontium.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Physics & Math

New Bacterium Is Digesting the Titanic, One Iron Atom at a Time

By Jennifer Welsh | December 7, 2010 5:42 pm

TitanicBow_600The name Titanic means so many things: the gigantic, disastrous ship; a record-breaking and award-winning movie; and now, a new iron-eating bacterium found in the boat’s underwater grave. Says maritime historian Dan Conlin:

“What is fascinating to me is that we tend to have this idea that these wrecks are time capsules frozen in time, when in fact there [are] all kinds of complex ecosystems feeding off them, even at the bottom of that great dark ocean.” [Our Amazing Planet]

The new species of bacteria, named Halomonas titanicae, is described in this month’s International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Biology. The bacteria is slowing eating away at the 50,000 tons of iron in the wreck, which has been under the ocean for 98 years. H. titanicae appears to digest iron and turns it into knobs of corrosion products.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World
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