Researchers to pilot algal approach to nuclear effluent clenup

17 April 2014

A radiation tolerant alga capable of living in extreme conditions may be used to help clean effluent and wastewater produced by nuclear facilities, according to the UK's Institution of Chemical Engineers.

The micro-alga - called Coccomyxa actinabiotis - was discovered in a used fuel cell storage pool at a nuclear facility and is capable of withstanding extreme radiation doses of up to 20 kiloGrays.

Microorganisms, including algae, are used widely by industry to help manage waste by-products.

The potential of the alga, which uses photosynthesis and metabolic processes to take-up the contaminants, is being explored by a French research team from Grenoble University, Montpellier University, Institut Laue-Langevin, and the Atomic Energy and Alternative Energies Commission - Division of Nuclear Energy.

The research team are currently developing a pilot-scale treatment unit, based on the Coccomyxa actinabiotis micro-alga, to remove effluents including carbon-14, uranium-238 and caesium-137.

The Institution of Chemical Engineers' (IChemE) chief executive, Dr David Brown, said: "Current technologies for the chemically engineered cleaning of nuclear effluents are robust and efficient. However, processes like evaporation, filtration, sorption and ion exchange can be expensive.

“Work in other industries indicates that decontamination using bioremediation technologies could be equally as efficient, but cheaper and more environmentally-friendly. But none is currently operational in highly radioactive environments.

“The researchers in France are breaking new ground by helping us to understand the feasibility of using algae for the highly controlled nuclear decontamination process, including issues such as fouling, pore size and re-use of this remarkable alga".

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