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Chemosphere. 2017 Apr;172:516-524. doi: 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2016.11.139.

Evaluation of a method for removing cesium and reducing the volume of leaf litter from broad-leaved trees contaminated by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident during the Great East Japan Earthquake.

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Dept. Environmental Sciences, School of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Miyagi University, Japan. Electronic address:
Dept. Environmental Sciences, School of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Miyagi University, Japan.


The town of Marumori in southern Miyagi Prefecture borders on Fukushima Prefecture, and following the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, there were concerns about cesium deposition in forested areas. One of the authors of this paper has continually surveyed leaf litter from the forested areas. As leaf litter may be a source of cesium contamination from the forest to downstream areas, we considered a simplified version of wet oxidation, a method previously presented by one of the authors of this study, as a technology to reduce leaf litter weight and cesium concentration, separating radioactive nuclides from non-radioactive ones, in leaf litter. We tested our method in three experiments. Experiment 1 used new leaf litter (232 Bq/kg) from the surface of a small stream at the forest edge nearby an area with air dose level higher than the national standard threshold of 0.23 μSv/h for the implementation of governmental decontamination works. Experiment 2 applied wet oxidation to older leaf litter (705 Bq/kg) harvested from a pasture nearby the stream mentioned above. We also used the same leaf litter in experiment 3 for a cesium release tests using pure water. In experiment 1 and 2 we treated leaf litter with a sodium hypochlorite solution, optimizing sodium hypochlorite concentration and reaction temperature. We measured a 50-60% decrease in the leaf litter weight and a 60% decrease in the cesium concentration. Moreover, we also measured the amount of cesium washout. The cesium budget of experiment 1 showed no cesium gasification (wet oxidation avoids airborne cesium as this element is prone to be volatile at 600 °C), and that high sodium hypochlorite concentration and high temperature had a strong positive effect on leaf litter volume reduction and cesium decontamination. Experiment 2 confirmed the reproducibility of these results in leaves with different cesium concentration and harvested in different conditions. We could also explain the mechanism behind leaf litter weight and cesium concentration reduction. Experiment 3 helped us to investigate the effects of the matter present on the surface of the water and the contribution of water soluble cesium. Concurrent experiments on changes in leaf litter chemical composition confirmed that our modified wet oxidation method had an effect on the removal of acid-insoluble lignin. Removal of lignin, a refractory component, might allow for a better utilization of the residue left after implementation of the proposed simplified wet oxidation. Thus, real wastes could be smaller than the residues. Together with the observed smaller cesium concentration in the residue, the proposed method in this study is expected to contribute to mitigate the risk due to the fallen leaves containing cesium.


Cesium concentration reduction; Fallen leaves; Marumori Town; Miyagi Prefecture; Sodium hypochlorite solution; Weight reduction

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