By Dion Markgraaff
The March earthquake in Japan and the resulting nuclear power plant disaster at Fukushima has rocked the entire world with the threat and spread of nuclear waste contamination. An unknown amount of different hazardous chemicals have been released into the atmosphere and ocean that threaten our food chain for the long foreseeable future. Hemp may be the key to reducing this damage we all face.
Many people know the cannabis plant has amazing healing powers, but itâ€™s incredible that this same plant can literally â€œeat awayâ€ nuclear waste. As a cannabis plant enthusiast, itâ€™s hard not to be overwhelmed by the many unbelievable uses of hemp. From the flowerâ€™s ability to aid and keep people from going blind, to the woody core of the stemâ€™s ability to build fire proof homes and much more. Now, we can add another use to the list: Hemp as a tool to clean up nuclear contamination around Chernobyl.
In 1998, Consolidated Growers and Processors (CGP), PHYTOTECH, and the Ukraineâ€™s Institute of Bast Crops planted industrial hemp to help remove contaminants in the soil near Chernobyl. Hemp is one of the best plants for a process called phytoremediation, a term coined by Dr. Ilya Raskin of Rutgers Universityâ€™s Biotechnology Center for Agriculture and the Environment. Dr. Raskin had been sent to examine food safety at the Chernobyl site.
PHYTOTECH specializes in phytoremediation, the general term for using phyto (plants) to remediate (clean up) polluted sites. Phytoremediation has been used to remove radioactive elements from soil and water at former weapons producing areas. It can also be used to clean up metals, pesticides, solvents, explosives, crude oil, and toxins leaching from landfills.Â Plants break down or degrade organic pollutants and stabilize metal contaminants by acting as filters or traps. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has estimated that more than 30,000 sites in the United States alone require hazardous waste treatment.
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 that includes 400 varieties of hemp from various regions of the world.Â Newer 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. â€œHemp is proving to be one of the best phyto-remediative plants we have been able to find,â€ said Slavik Dushenkov, a research scientist with PHYTOTECH.
The company PHYTOTECH lists the benefits of phytoremediation (compared to traditional remedial technologies):
– Lower cost
– Applicability to a broad range of metals
– Potential for recycling the metal-rich biomass
– Minimal environmental disturbance
– Minimization of secondary air and waterborne wastes
Who knows the extent of the contamination from the nuclear power plant disaster at Fukushima. Since the March 11th disaster in Japan, a man who was swept away by the tsunami has washed up on our coast. So it is hard to think about the tons of nuclear contaminated water getting pumped into our mutually shared ocean and how it is going to broadly effect a great deal of our ecosystems.
In Japan, hemp is called ASA (yes, like the name our beloved medical cannabis rights group). Itâ€™s an ancient, holy, and revered plant. For example, the emperorâ€™s ritual clothes are required to be made from hemp.
If you think about how growing cannabis can improve the soil (grown as a break crop [to relieve and revitalize the soil between crops], farmers are getting a 27% increased yield after the hemp crop because industrial hemp puts nitrogen back into the soil), suppress weeds and diseases, and clean contaminates out of the planet, then you would realize this plant is medicine for our Mother Earth.