A cheap and widely available agro-waste may help mop up radioactive uranium from the environment, according to a study by researchers at the MS University of Baroda.
The powder produced by crushing the outer shell of the fruits of the Asian Palmyra palm (tal gachh), can absorb uranium compounds from water bodies, according to a paper by Padmaja P. Sudhakar and her student Shilpi Kushawaha in the Journal of Environmental Radioactivity.
Uranium, used in nuclear power stations as fuel, is highly radioactive and dissolves easily in water. It is essential to remove it from effluents emanating from uranium mines and uranium processing facilities before they are discharged into the environment to avoid contamination.
“While different chemical methods such as ion exchange and membrane based separation are available, the ideal and cost-effective technique would be to use environmentally benign substances,” says Sudhakar.
If the shell powder is treated with different chemicals, the rate of adsorption goes up significantly. Each gram of the material is capable of absorbing nearly 250 milligrams of uranium compounds. Also, it is possible to remove the toxic uranium from the palm shell powder, which can be reused three times.
“It will be worthwhile to explore the possibility of developing the process for its application on an industrial scale,” says K.S. Parthasarathy, Raja Ramanna emeritus professor at the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board in Mumbai.