U.S. scientists have developed a filter that they claim is powerful enough to clean up radiation-contaminated water resulting from a nuclear disaster.
Researchers at Rice University in Texas added carbon nanotubes to plain quartz fibres to create a reusable fibre that they claim can filter contaminated water to a standard acceptable by the World Health Organisation.
The filter removed 99 percent of metals from samples contaminated with cadmium, cobalt, copper, mercury, nickel, and lead, according to a ResearchGate report.
"The researchers calculated that 1 gram of the fibre developed could get 83,000 liters of water to World Health Organisation standards," the report states adding that the filter can be washed with household vinegar and reused.
Andrew R. Barron, a nanotechnology expert at Rice university's chemistry department said the original idea for the research came from a high school student named Perry Alagappan and had a twofold objective: “First, was the desire to be able to remove toxic metals from drinking water in remote locations that didn’t have power. The second was the Fukushima disaster, where there was a need to remove complex radioactive metal waste.”
According to Barron, the wiry wool-like fibre has been tested on highly polluted water in Guatemala City where it removed hazardous metals such as mercury and cadmium.
The researchers are also hoping to develop the technology to remove metals from waste water from abandoned coal mines for a European Union program called DE-MINE.
Alagappan, who was the lead author on the study, has spent several years developing the the filter and is now an undergraduate student at Stanford University.
The filter, which has won several awards including the Stockholm Junior Water Prize, has yet to be used at th stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, whose operator TEPCO recently announced its intention to release contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean.
This is not the first material to be developed by US researchers hoping to find a solution to the water problem in Fukushima, which is the result of groundwater mixing with radiation that leaked from the three reactors that went into meltdown following the 2011 disasters in northern Japan.
In 2012 other US researchers at Oklahoma State University developed pellets that were capable of removing radioactive isotopes and heavy metals from milk, juice, and other beverages. The pellets were reported to be usable by consumers in emergency situations to remove heavy metals out of juices and other foodstuffs. It could also decontaminate radioactive liquids in the event of a nuclear accident, such as the one that took place at the Fukushima nuclear plant in 2011, according to one report in Chemical & Engineering News.