A Swiss company focused on producing and commercializing sustainable technological solutions for the environment, Exlterra (Excellence for Earth), partnered with State Specialized Enterprise Ecocentre (SSE Ecocentre), the Ukrainian state-owned specialized enterprise in charge of radiation and environmental monitoring in the Chernobyl exclusion zone, and has succeeded in reducing radiation in the soil and the air in Chernobyl.
The technology called Nucleus Separation Passive System (NSPS) was tested at a 2.5-acre area (1 hectare) between November 2019 and September 2020, and at the end of this period, the radiation contamination levels in the soil have been decreased by 37 percent, and in the air by 47 percent.
While tourists can visit the site today, it will take at least 24 thousand years for the radioactive contaminants to naturally decompose. Exlterra’s new technology might shorten that period to approximately 5 years, according to the test results. The NSPS technology uses concepts of particle physics and nuclear energy without the use of chemicals or environmentally harmful materials to tackle severe radiation contamination and accelerate the decomposition of radioactive elements.
NSPS technology leverages in particular high-velocity particles, also known as positrons, to direct this naturally occurring force towards radioactive isotopes in the soil and break the bonds holding them together. The process is conducted safely under the surface of the soil and no radioactivity is released to the ground or in the air. Once the positron comes into contact with the radioactive isotope, it rejoins an electron and annihilates the radioactive matter back to its original state.
The methodology and the measurements process are carried out by SSE Ecocenter, and the radiation levels were measured at distances of 5 cm and 1 meter from the ground, respectively, while soil sampling was performed at a depth of 100 cm below the surface. The radionuclides measured in the soil were, cesium (Cs137), strontium (Sr90), and americium (Am241).
The complete results of the experiment are yet to be announced but, “We are on track to reach our longer-term objective of returning the installed zone to baseline or natural levels five years after completion of the installation,” says Frank Muller, CEO of Exlterra.
Sergiy Kireiev, General Director of SSE Ecocentre in Chernoby said, “These results are remarkable. It is the first time in 35 years that such technology has succeeded in reducing the level of radioactivity in the soil and air so significantly. This is real hope for the whole area, including the treatment of the sarcophagus."
Muller, pointed out that the 12-month reduction in radioactivity levels will allow them to bring the area back to its original state over a 5-year period. “We will continue to offer our services to help the Chernobyl exclusion site, including the area around the Nr. 4 plant, and we also want to quickly offer our solution at other problematic sites around the world, including Fukushima in Japan. We can avoid the discharge of radioactive water into the oceans and thus prevent a new ecological catastrophe,” he says.
President and CTO of Exlterra Andrew Niemczyk said, “What seemed impossible is now a reality. NSPS is an innovation that allows positrons to naturally accelerate in a passive system to remove contaminated areas. It harnesses renewable energy sources present in nature to considerably accelerate the natural decomposition process of contaminants in the soil. That's what makes this invention unique - it uses natural energies to solve industrial pollution without resorting to chemical substitutes or soil manipulations”.
Besides treating radioactivity, NSPS technology can also be used to treat other types of soil contaminations, such as heavy metals and perfluoroalkyl substances.
“We are only at the beginning of the virtuous application of such a technology," concludes Niemczyk. “As with our other successfully commercialized technologies, we have demonstrated that we can use nature's resources to heal the wounds we inflict on it. The common denominator of our technologies, installed underground, is the use of natural and renewable forces to achieve tangible results” he says.