American innovation is going to help treat contaminated groundwater at the nuclear plant Fukushima, the site of a major meltdown following the 2011 tsunami that devastated Japan.
California-based startup Kurion has played a major role in efforts to cleanup the nuclear disaster since it occurred when it rushed to design and test a process to help remove cesium — a dangerous radioactive element— from water in order to safely store it in tanks or reuse it for a cooling system. The system has since processed 50 million gallons of water.
But the company, founded in 2008, is no novice to nuclear waste. Kurion has also worked on the U.S. Department of Energy’s Hanford nuclear waste site in Washington, once the plutonium producer that provided fuel for the first nuclear bomb.
More recently, the nuclear waste management company deployed another system, the Mobile Processing System, to extract strontium, a radioactive element that poses the second-biggest threat behind cesium. Kurion is the only American company with a direct contract with Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), according to Fast Company.
Kurion is aiming to submit a proposal to the Japanese government to begin the next phase of treatment for tritium, a radioactive form of water molecule in the contaminated tanks at Fukushima.
“Every pressurized water reactor around the world generates tritium,” Kurion CEO Bill Gallo told Fast Company. “There has been no technology to capture [it]. Usually, the tritium is allowed to decay and, once it’s below a certain level, the water is released.”
Gallo, to his knowledge, contends that Kurion’s technology is the only one of its kind that can remove the hard-to-treat tritium. If the proposal is accepted, the system will be the first time it’s used outside of a pilot test.
TEPCO fills a new 1,000-ton tank of contaminated groundwater at its site every two-and-a-half days. While experts and officials scramble to find suitable solutions to stop the flow of water into surrounding land, Kurion continues to build technology to help treat the contaminated water. The company is now working on a system that turns nuclear waste into glass through vitrification technology.
Ultimately, Japan officials hope to find a process to clean the contaminated water and return it to the ocean, something that could take decades.
“There hasn’t been a lot of movement in our sector for quite some time,” Gallo said. “We will consider ourselves successful when we have deployed our technology globally.”
With an abundance of technology and innovation at home, it’s good to see American companies sharing their expertise with others.