Sunflowers can absorb radioactive waste through their roots and store them in their stems and leaves through a process called phytoremediation.
After the 1986 nuclear disaster of Chernobyl in the Ukraine, the plants were used to clean the plant's cooling pond. They floated on rafts with their roots dangling in the water to suck up the radioactive waste. After three weeks of absorbing, the flowers were disposed of as radioactive waste. This project, named the Chernobyl Sunflower project, began in 1994.
The Fukushima Sunflower project is now following the lead of Chernobyl, and fields of sunflowers are bursting into bloom across this contaminated area of Japan. Volunteers, farmers and officials planted the flowers so that they can absorb the radiation that leaked into the soil from the region’s damaged nuclear power plant. There are concerns that the contamination is mainly in the topsoil and that the roots of the flowers are too deep to absorb it. Time will tell whether this project will be a success.
Officials are hoping that the local economy will benefit as much from the project as the environment. They are hoping tourists will come back to the region to admire the sunflower fields.
Due to this magnificent flower’s ability to assist in getting rid of nuclear waste, it has become the international symbol of nuclear disarmament.