Belarus, a country affected much by the fallout of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986, is planning to grow biofuels to make its soil fit to grow food again within decades rather than hundreds of years.
The Chernobyl disaster was a nuclear reactor accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union.
It is considered to be the worst nuclear power plant disaster in history, resulting in a severe release of radioactivity following a massive power excursion that destroyed the reactor.
A 40,000 square kilometre area of south-east Belarus is so stuffed with radioactive isotopes that rained down from the nearby Chernobyl nuclear power station in 1986 that it won't be fit for growing food for hundreds of years, as the isotopes won't have decayed sufficiently.
But now, according to a report in New Scientist, Belarus is planning to use the crops to suck up the radioactive strontium and caesium and make the soil fit to grow food again within decades.
This week, a team of Irish biofuels technologists is in the capital, Minsk, hoping to do a deal with state agencies to buy radioactive sugar beet and other crops grown on the contaminated land to make biofuels for sale across Europe.
The company, Greenfield Project Management, insists no radioactive material will get into the biofuel as only ethanol is distilled out.
"In distillation, only the most volatile compounds rise up the tube. Everything else is left behind," said Basil Miller of Greenfield.
The heavy radioactive residues will be burned in a power station, producing a concentrated "radioactive ash".
"This can be disposed of at existing treatment works for nuclear waste," said Miller.
The Belarus government hopes that by growing biofuels and using the whole plant, it can cleanse the soil.
"Instead of centuries of natural decay (of the radionuclides), this process will cut the time to 20 to 40 years," said Andrei Savinkh, Belarus representative at the UN in Geneva.
Greenfield plans to build the first biofuels distillery next year at Mozyr, close to one of the most contaminated areas.
The 500 million Euros plant will turn half a million cubic metres of crops a year into 700 million litres of biofuels, starting in 2011.
As many as 10 more plants will follow provided funding can be raised, according to Miller.