The Cryptococcus neoformans fungus grows around nuclear power plants as well as in bird poop. In other words, these fungi do the dirty work. It was first discovered at the Chernobyl power plant in 1991, five years after the nuclear reactor exploded.
The accident had resulted in 125,000 square miles being exposed to radiation.
These mushrooms have been feasting for years. A nuclear accident is potentially fatal for our species. Fungi, however, have hit a jackpot. Only recently, however, have scientists discovered the fungi’s properties could help protect people.
These particular fungi, “can decompose radioactive material such as the hot graphite in the remains of the Chernobyl reactor,” according to a 2007 article in Nature. This is a skill we need to take advantage of.
They have dark melanin pigments (indigo to our eyes) that absorb radiation and process it into energy without negative effects. They swallow radiation into a blissful nothingness as if it had never been there. Fungi are truly gifts that keep on giving. “Scientists believe this mechanism could be used to make bio mimicking substances that both block radiation from penetrating and turn it into a renewable energy source.” These mushrooms are so effective that NASA wants to take them to space. Nuclear plants are dangerous. We expend a lot of energy protecting the infrastructure as well as employees. Fortunately, for the plant’s neighbors, the chances of a catastrophic event are slim. On the subject of nuclear waste, in any case, there are many opinions. Is nuclear waste really that dangerous? We often assume that these plants are environmental villains, but that might be murkier than we assumed. Many sites seek to debunk myths about nuclear waste. However, last year, the estimated cost of cleaning up America’s nuclear waste jumped more than $100 billion dollars in one year—$383.78 billion in 2017 to $493.96 billion in 2018. In theory, nuclear waste might not be dangerous, but we sure spend a lot of cash cleaning up the waste. Radiation-eating fungi might be able to help with these clean-up costs. It’s an idea worth exploring.
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