|Phytoremediation: Using Plants to Clean Soil|
Back to Map Page February, 2000: Chernobyl (Ukraine) On the morning of April 26, 1986, a small town in the former Soviet Union was the site of a nuclear explosion that literally shook the earth. The historic accident at Chernobyl Nuclear Plant Reactor 4 in the Ukraine caused severe radioactive contamination. Families within a 30-km zone of the power plant were evacuated, and in the months that followed, extensive contamination was discovered in areas up to 100 km from the site. Scientists are hopeful that plants may play a key role in cleaning up some of the contamination. In 1989, three years after the explosion, the Soviet government asked the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to assess the radiological and health situation in the area surrounding the power plant. Among the most significant findings were radioactive emissions and toxic metals--including iodine, cesium-137, strontium, and plutonium--concentrated in the soil, plants, and animals. Such substances are potentially harmful to human health. For example, although iodine tends to disappear within a few weeks of exposure, it can be inhaled or ingested and then accumulated in the thyroid gland, where it delivers high doses of radiation as it decays. Since 1991, the Canadian Nuclear Association has noted a marked increase in the incidence of thyroid cancer in the area surrounding the nuclear accident. Cesium-137, radioactive cesium with a mass number of 137, can enter the food chain and deliver an internal dose of radiation before it is eliminated metabolically.
References, Websites, and Further Reading "Sunflowers Bloom in Tests to Remove Radioactive Metals from Soil and Water," Wall Street Journal, 29 February 1996.