Friday September 11, 2015
Radiation is concentrated energy that comes from a source, can travel through space and can penetrate various materials depending on the type of radiation it is. Ionizing radiation is caused by unstable atoms seeking to stabilize themselves by emitting excess energy. Prolonged exposure to radiation has been shown to have a profound impact on organisms prompting the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to establish acceptable dose limits.
Unfortunately, nuclear contamination has exposed many Japanese (and some West Coast Americans) to unsafe radiation levels following the Fukushima meltdown of 2011. Hemp may be able to help rectify the damage, but not before overcoming its own legal hurdles.
What Happened at Fukushima?
In March, 2011, disaster struck Japan as a magnitude 9.0 “double earthquake” hit the eastern coastline of Honshu Island (the main part of Japan). The quake was so large that it actually moved Japan a few meters east, removed a half meter of shoreline, caused the deaths of over 19,000 people and spawned a 15-meter wide tsunami.
Also on the eastern coast of Honshu were a few Fukushima nuclear power reactors with seawater pumps unfortunately close to sea level. When the tsunami hit, these pumps became submerged resulting in a loss of power (both primary and reserve) and thus the inability to keep the reactors cool. The resulting core meltdown has caused wide-spread nuclear contamination, the results of which we can still see today.
Cost of clean-up so far has reached more than $13 billion and spans hundreds of acres of land. More than 5.5 million large-sized, double-lined garbage bags filled with contaminated debris will be stored in temporary storage facilities in the area. The Japanese government plans to have the debris removed from the area within 30 years and will continue to spend billions of dollars to make it happen. Unlike the 1986 Chernobyl accident in which authorities simply deemed the area uninhabitable and relocated the residents, Japan is determined to make the contaminated area livable again.
But there may be an easier way to clean up radiation caused by Fukushima and it’s considerably more efficient and economical: hemp.
Growing Hemp to Clean Radiation
Plants and fungi serve as natural “filters” by pulling toxins out of the soil and air through a process termed phytoremediation. Phytoremediation has proven beneficial in cleaning up radiation from the Chernobyl incident through the use of crops like corn, mustard, sunflower seeds and eventually hemp. Of all crops used, hemp outperformed them all.
According to Phytotech researcher, Slavik Dushenkov, “Hemp is proving to be one of the best phyto-remediative plants we have been able to find.” It flourishes in the toxic soil and absorbs considerable amounts of cadmium, nickel and lead without compromising the fiber structure. In other words, not only can hemp help remove radiation from air and soil, the harvest can be used to create countless byproducts including fuel, plastics, clothing, building materials and solar panels. And who knows, maybe hemp could help replace the need for nuclear power so these catastrophes won’t have to happen again.
Problems Slowing the Use of Hemp in Phytoremediation
Even though hemp shows great promise in the remediation of radioactive contaminants, there are still legal roadblocks keeping mass cultivation at bay; specifically, the Cannabis Control Law enacted just after WWII in 1948 per the demand of the United States. The law essentially limits hemp cultivation to small-scale production and, even then, it must be used for research purposes only.
The Cannabis Control Law is not only outdated, but also flawed because it refers to hemp cultivation as narcotic (while omitting any mention of marijuana) and gives no justification for the law in the first place. Though permission can be granted to cultivate hemp in Japan, the process is difficult and permission hard to come by.
America’s west coast is also at risk for radioactive contamination because of its proximity to Japan’s dumping ground for radioactive waste: the Pacific Ocean. Since the leak, multiple water samples have tested positive for trace amounts of radiation though the World Health Organization has deemed these levels to be harmless.
Fortunately, the three west coast states, California, Washington and Oregon, have cannabis cultivation laws in place. Provided federal approval to plant help crops for non-research purposes, hemp could be the quick fix we need to get America’s radiation problem in check. Hopefully, Japan will jump on board, too.
We only have one planet. If we damage it, we must rectify the damage. Unfortunately, an efficient, affordable way to mediate radiation is being slowed simply because of outdated cannabis cultivation laws. It’s time to readdress hemp cultivation laws in America and abroad before disaster strikes again.
What do you think should be done about contamination from the Fukushima meltdown?