Fungal Nuclear Remediation

Justin Stein
March 5, 2016

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2016


Fig. 1: Mushrooms planted near the Fukishima Daiichi nuclear accident. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Following a major earthquake, a tsunami disabled the power supply and cooling of three Fukushima Daiichi reactors, causing a nuclear accident. The nuclear fallout will make continued human habitation in close proximity to the reactors very difficult. This unprecedented natural and human-made disaster must be fixed through a novel approach to management and remediation. [1] This is where the idea of planting fungi, like mushrooms, can clean up radioactive contamination (specifically Cs-137) and mitigate the impact on the surrounding land, the land's wildlife, and the people. [2]

The Process

In the area with contamination, one needs to plant native deciduous and conifer trees. [1] For planting mushrooms, the best hyper-accumulating mushrooms to use have biological characteristics: parasitic, mycorrhizal and saprophytic. [2] After the mushrooms form, harvest them. These mushrooms, which now have concentrated radioactivity can now be taken to an incinerator, where their ash can be placed into glass or stored using other storage technology.


There have been numerous nuclear disasters in history, such as the 1979 Three Mile Island accident, 1986 Chernobyl disaster, and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster mentioned above. [3] Cleaning up nuclear disasters can be a slow and expensive process. However, the application of fungi cleaning up nuclear waste is economical because the fungi can be grown on inexpensive agricultural wastes like rice straw, corn cobs, and sawdust. [1] The fungi can also easily be mass produced. As well as being cheaper than other methods, fungal nuclear remediation can also help future generations with positive ecological and cultural benefits. One downside to using fungal remediation is that some contaminated sites have high concentrations of chemicals (i.e. cadmium or lead) that are toxic to many microorganisms. [2] As shown by the clean up process occurring in Fukushima, fungal nuclear remediation may be the current best option to clean up nuclear disasters.

© Justin Stein. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] C. O. Adenpekun and R. Lawal, "Uses of Mushrooms in Bioremediation: A Review," Biotechnology and Molecular Biology Reviews 7, 62 (2012).

[2] W. A. Bird and J. B. Little, "A Tale of Two Forests: Addressing Postnuclear Radiation at Chernobyl and Fukushima," Environ. Health Perspect. 121, a78 (2013).

[3] R. Black, "Fukushima: As Bad as Chernobyl?" BBC News, 12 Apr 11.