by Elaine Charkowski
Central Oregon Green Pages
An explosion at a nuclear reactor on April 26th, 1986 in Chernobyl, Ukraine created the world’s worst nuclear disaster – so far.
The blast heavily contaminated agricultural lands in a 30 km radius around the reactor. The few people still living there must monitor their food and water for radiation. However the combination of a new technology (phytoremediation) and an old crop (industrial hemp) may offer the Ukraine a way to decontaminate it’s radioactive soil.
In 1998, Consolidated Growers and Processors (CGP), PHYTOTECH, and the Ukraine’s Institute of Bast Crops began what may be one of the most important projects in history – the planting of industrial hemp for the removal of contaminants in the soil near Chernobyl.
CGP is an ecologically-minded multinational corporation which finances the growing and processing of sustainable industrial crops such as flax, kenaf, and industrial hemp. CGP operates in North America, Europe and the Ukraine.
PHYTOTECH (see webpage: http://www.phytotech.com/index.html ) specializes in phytoremediation, the general term for using phyto (plants) to remediate (clean up) polluted sites. Phytoremediation can be used to remove radioactive elements from soil and water at former weapons producing facilaties. It can also be used to clean up metals, pesticides, solvents, explosives, crude oil, polyaromatic hydrocarbons, and toxins leaching from landfills.
Plants break down or degrade organic pollutants and stabilize metal contaminants by acting as filters or traps. PHYTOTECH is conducting feild trials to improve the phytoextraction of lead, uranium, cesium-137, and strontium-90 from soils and also from water.
Founded in 1931, the Institute of Bast Crops is now the leading research institution in the Ukraine working on seed-breeding, seed-growing, cultivating, harvesting and processing hemp and flax.
The Bast Institute has a genetic bank including 400 varieties of hemp from various regions of the world.
"Hemp is proving to be one of the best phyto-remediative plants we have been able to find," said Slavik Dushenkov, a research scienst with PHYTOTECH. Test results have been promising and CGP, PHYOTECH and the Bast Institute plan full scale trials in the Chernobyl region in the spring of 1999.
Industrial hemp is not a drug. Unlike its cousin marijuana, industrial hemp has only trace amounts of THC – the chemical that produces the high. In 1973, the Department of the Interior and Department of Health and Agriculture of the former USSR issued an ultimatim to the Institute of Bast Crops – either create non-psycoactive varities of hemp or stop cultivating hemp. So, scientists at the institute created an industrial hemp plant containing only minute traces of THC. Modern testing in Canada confirmed the low THC content of the Bast Institute’s hemp.
New technologies in hemp harvesting and processing are also being developed at the Institute whose library contains more than 55,000 volumes mainly on hemp-growing and flax-growing.
Chernobyl may seem distant, but the EPA estimates that there are more than 30,000 sites requiring hazardous waste treatment throughout the U.S. including Hanford and Three Mile Island.
Phytoremediation with industrial hemp could be used at many of these sites. Unfortunantly, the U.S. government refuses to legalize the cultivation of industrial hemp and clings to the obsolete myth that it is a drug.