Paper manufacturers have developed absorbents that soak up radioactive cesium, a development that offers a potential business bonanza in radiation-hit Japan.
But they are unable to start full-scale production because the government has yet to formulate a policy on how to handle radioactive waste after the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
The government has not decided whether used absorbents could be kept at intermediate storage facilities for contaminated soil and other waste to be set up in Fukushima Prefecture, according to Tokushu Tokai Paper Co.
It and Oji Kinocloth Co. separately developed absorbents combining nonwoven fabrics with zeolites, minerals that can absorb waterborne cesium.
The companies have a ready market in Fukushima Prefecture where local governments are working on decontamination.
The sheets are spread on the ground when it is wet with rain so they absorb cesium contained in the surface layer. There is no need to strip the topsoil.
The cesium stays in place even after the material becomes dry. Unwoven fabrics are used in the manufacture of paper diapers.
The two companies use different technologies. Tokushu Tokai Paper sandwiched powder-like zeolites with unwoven fabrics, while Oji Kinocloth, an affiliate of Oji Paper Co., mixed zeolites into unwoven fabrics.
Mitsubishi Paper Mills Ltd. has developed a powder-like absorbent by mixing zeolites and iron oxides.
Once radioactive ash generated from incinerated rubble is put in water, it is just a matter of placing the material in water to absorb the cesium. The absorbent can then be removed by magnets.
Mitsubishi Paper plans to sell the product mainly to operators of incineration facilities. The absorbent was developed based on technology to retrieve rare metals from drainage systems at metal plating factories.
With paper sales stagnant due to digitization of documents and other factors, the companies hope the new products will become a fresh revenue source.
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