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Precipitating a Solution: The Fukushima Nuclear Reactor Disaster Clean-up

March 10, 2015 – by Barry Goodell,


Test tubes containing dissolved salts that are found in seawater and other contaminated waters Test tubes containing dissolved salts that are found in seawater and other contaminated waters. only cesium (far right) is pulled out of solution by the unique pDc compound being produced by Goodell and the Japanese research team on sabbatical in his laboratory at Virginia Tech. one pDc precipitates the Cesium, it can be readily filtered from con- taminated waters.

Two visiting researchers from Japan, on sabbatical in Professor Barry Goodell’s laboratory in ICTAS II on the Virginia Tech campus, recently made a finding that may help to clean up radioactive pollution from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster in Japan. Dr. Yuichiro Otsuka, a researcher at the Forestry and Forest products research institute in Tsukuba, Japan, and professor Tomonori Sonoki from Hirosaki University in Japan, have been working with Goodell on ways to utilize waste lignin from pulp and paper processing to produce more useful “platform chemicals” – chemicals that can be used as precursors for production of biofuels or biopolymers (bioplastics). Successful production of one compound knows as PDC has been successful in scale-up laboratory studies, and the biosynthetic path- ways for production of large amounts of PDC from a crude fraction of kraft lignin from pulp mills have been worked out by the team now. Although the targeted PDC molecule was intended as a platform chemical for biopolymer production, a surprising finding by Otsuka in lab has lead to a discovery that may help clean up radioactive Cesium in waste-water from the Fukushima-Daiichi Nuclear Power plant in Japan. Radioactive Cesium is the major radioactive component from the reactor, and millions of gallons of radioactive Cesium contaminated water are now stored at the Fukushima site. Further, the Cesium has leaked into the seawater of the area in some cases. Researchers in Japan have been seeking better ways to selectively separate out, and collect radioactive Cesium from the waste water and seawater, but it has been a difficult challenge. Cesium is unique compound known as an “alkali metal”. Metals like this can be removed from solutions if appropriate metal binding compounds can be identified, but finding an appropriate compound for the binding of Cesium has been very difficult and the Japanese people have been desperate to find an alkali metal binding compound that is specific to Cesium. However, in the lab, when the newly synthesized PDC compound was tested in binding Cesium (a non-radioactive isotope) the PDC was found to be especially good at both binding it and also pulling it out of solution in a manner that it could be readily collected. Further, when tests of the PDC were done with mixtures of other metal salts – such as sodium chloride (common table salt which is also the major salt in seawater), Cesium was selectively bound by the PDC, allowing it to be pulled out of solution for selective disposal. This could be a finding of major importance for the clean-up of the Fukushima-Daiichi reactor disaster, and Japanese researchers, including Dr. Masaya Nakamura who previously did a sabbatical in Dr. Goodell’s lab, are now exploring how the PDC compound can be further scaled up, and how it can be applied to waste water contaminated with radioactive Cesium in Japan.
Otsuka, Goodell and Sonoki recently presented their findings at an international Symposium in Concepcion, Chile (the lignoBiotech III) conference won a second prize award for best content. That research presentation, by Y. Otsuka, M. Nakamura, T. Sonoki, B. Goodell and H. Ogata is entitled: Production and properties of 2-pyrone-4,6-dicarboxylic acid biosynthesized from lignin for use as a unique platform chemical and as an alkali metal chelator for disaster remediation.

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Winter 2015


Upcoming Events

Category-12 Wood Preservation Re-certification Workshops

Workshops for those needing category-12, wood preservation, re-certification. 

  • Madison Wood Preservers in Madison, VA from 9:00-12:00 on March 25th.
  • Lexington, VA at the Rockbridge County extension office from 9:00-12:00 the morning of Friday, March 27th. 

Pre-registration is required, please contact Dr. Bond at (540) 231-8752 or

Web-Based Unit Load Design Short Course for Pallet Suppliers

“How to Use Pallet Design Differently” Date: April 21-23, 2015
Location: Live Webinar
Topics include: 

  • Principles of unit load design; 
  • Unit load material handling audit procedures; 
  • Packaging design; 
  • Pallet design; 
  • Material handling systems; 
  • Interactions between material handling equipment, packaging, and pallets; 
  • Diagnosing and solving material handling problems; 
  • Stringer and block class pallet design using Best LoadTM

For more information visit or call (540) 231-7673



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