According to this report, activists in Japan are looking to sunflowers to help decontaminate soil affected by the Fukushima nuclear disaster. A group of civil servants and young entrepreneurs are asking people to grow sunflowers, then harvest and send the seeds to north-eastern Japan to grow in, and hopefully clean, the contaminated soils near to the damaged power station.
Japanese scientists have already conducted a test by growing sunflowers in the contaminated soil on farmland near the nuclear plant. Sunflowers have already been shown to germinate and sprout in this soil and if it is confirmed that the growing plants have absorbed significant quantities of radioactive caesium, scientists will use bacteria to decompose the plants into what will be classified as radioactive waste.
The report explains how the sunflowers can help: “The process of extracting contaminants from the soil via plants is called phytoremediation. While animals can move away from pollutants or other toxics (if they’re lucky), plants have evolved ways to live with the toxics and eventually extract them from the soil. The downside is that the concentrated pollutants, such as radioactivity or lead, can then pass along the food chain if not disposed of properly. Sunflowers were used to suck up radioactive caesium and strontium in a pond at the Chernobyl nuclear accident site in 1994 and to remove uranium from contaminated springs near the Oak Ridge (TN) National Laboratory in 1996.”