Flower power to monitor nuclear power

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The Independent Online
SCIENTISTS wearing protective suits yesterday harvested a field of sunflowers that were planted to see whether they could absorb radioactive contamination around a nuclear power station.

The experiment, at Bradwell nuclear power station in Essex, was carried out by British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) to see whether the compounds could be mopped up from the land after an earlier leak of water from the station's underground cooling system.

Some plants, including spinach and sugar beet, are known to absorb radioactive minerals from the ground and BNFL wants to see if the phenomenon can be exploited to clean up its nuclear sites.

Robin Sellers, a scientist at BNFL's Berkeley research centre, said: ``The technology is novel and low-cost. It also incorporates simple technology and is extremely environmentally friendly. ``It is early days but the concept has tremendous potential."

The scientists will now sample the plants to see whether they successfully sucked up radioactive contaminants in the soil. BNFL said it has used nets and fencing to keep rabbits, birds and insects away from the experiment. The plants will be burned and the ash treated as radioactive waste.

BNFL officials planted the sunflowers last May in an area where a trench had been dug after rain had caused some residual contamination from parts of a disused effluent line to seep up to the surface.

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