Technological endpoint of radiation at Chernobyl amid Ukraine conflict

"What seemed impossible is now a reality," says Andrew Niemczyk, president and CTO of the Swiss startup Exlterra, to explain a technology that takes advantage of renewable energy sources to accelerate the natural decomposition process of pollutants in the soil without the need to use chemical substitutes.

Technological endpoint of radiation at Chernobyl amid Ukraine conflict

"What seemed impossible is now a reality," says Andrew Niemczyk, president and CTO of the Swiss startup Exlterra, to explain a technology that takes advantage of renewable energy sources to accelerate the natural decomposition process of pollutants in the soil without the need to use chemical substitutes. Tangible results have been obtained in an area as controversial as Chernobyl. A name known for the disaster caused by the explosion of one of the reactors of its nuclear power plant in 1986, which exceeded 500 times the radiation released by the Hiroshima atomic bomb. And today it is once again at the center of the debate after the passage of Russian troops through the area.

Germán Orizaola, a biologist and researcher at the University of Oviedo, has worked there and travels to the area once a year. «Chernobyl before the conflict was in a stable situation and less than 10% of the radiation emitted in 1986 remained. At a biological level it was one of the largest reserves in all of Europe. But other areas like the Red Forest are still one of the most radioactive places on the planet », he points out.

The worrying situation was registered with the entrance of the Russian troops, the radiation multiplied by five. It was blamed on the movement of a large amount of heavy military radio machinery through the exclusion zone and the increase in air pollution. In SaveEcoBot, a bot that monitors environmental data in Ukraine, high levels of gamma radiation were also observed in the area: There was talk of three hundred Russian soldiers who were taken to a hospital in Belarus. But Orizaola clarifies that “part of that news is propaganda to justify the withdrawal of Russian troops. The syndrome that they said they were experiencing is impossible, because it would be similar to the one that occurred in 1986, when the exposure was a thousand times greater.

The truth is that the impact of radioactivity depends on the dose and the exposure time, and the Russian soldiers entered the Red Forest without protection, exposed to breathing radioactive particles. They excavated in the area and made sandbags for fortifications with radioactive sand, according to Ukrainian Energy Minister German Gulashchenko. The fires in the area helped multiply the concern. And the Ukrainian authorities denounced that the Russian forces had taken radioactive material from the laboratories, as a souvenir, with beta and gamma radiation.

Radiologist Vadim Chumak, who monitored contamination after the Chernobyl accident, already warned in the MIT publication that something like the Goiânia accident in Brazil in 1989 could be seen, when a group of people stole a radiotherapy device from an abandoned hospital to sell the parts for scrap. And he warned of the need to have the latest technology to measure the radioactivity present in Chernobyl, given that the devices they have are from the 1990s. So there is some uncertainty to what extent the presence of Russian forces has compromised some areas.

However, before the conflict, Exlterra had already achieved promising results, and at the end of 2021 they announced that they had reduced radioactive contamination in the soil and air by an average of 37% and 46% respectively, one year after installation. of its NSPS (Nucleus Separation Passive System) technology. And they claim that a total cleanup of the area is conceivable in four years. This opens up promising prospects, in particular for the treatment of radioactive waste, in the context of the current energy debate. Sergiy Kireiev, General Director of SSE Ecocentre in Chernobyl said "it is the first time in 35 years that a technology of this type has managed to reduce the level of radioactivity in the soil and the air in such a significant way".

NSPS technology harnesses high-speed particles, positrons, to direct this natural force toward radioactive isotopes and breaks the bonds that hold them together, annihilating the original matter. "We are simply accelerating the naturally occurring process by creating an underground energy field," Frank Muller, CEO of Exlterra, explains to ABC. “Our method also allows radioactive material to be decontaminated or other types of contaminants (lead, arsenic...) to be removed. It has been demonstrated in Chernobyl and it can be done in Fikushima », he specifies.

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