Hazel Park company tests tech for cleaning up radiation at Chernobyl site

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published May 7, 2021

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HAZEL PARK — Exlterra, a Swiss company with offices in Hazel Park that specializes in cutting-edge “green” technology, has unveiled a new invention it hopes will benefit the environment.

Called the Nucleus Separation Passive System, or NSPS, the technology is currently being tested at a 1-hectare site in the Chernobyl exclusion zone. The purpose of the technology is to reduce radiation contamination in the area. For this experiment, Exlterra has partnered with SSE Ecocentre, a Ukrainian state-owned operation in charge of environmental monitoring at Chernobyl.

The details of the experiment were announced in late April, on the 35th commemoration of one of the worst environmental disasters in history. In 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine suffered two massive explosions when a routine test went horribly wrong. The roof was blown off, and the amount of radiation released was 400 times more than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

The explosions killed two workers, and acute radiation exposure would kill at least 28 more in the months that followed. More than 100,000 people had to be evacuated. As the years went on, thousands of people developed signs of cancer and other health issues resulting from the fallout.

While tourists can visit the site today, Ukrainian authorities won’t allow anyone to live in the 1,000-square-mile zone around the power plant. It will take at least 24,000 years for the radioactive contaminants that linger in the area to naturally decay.

Exlterra’s new invention might accelerate that timeline. The NSPS technology uses concepts of particle physics and nuclear energy to tackle severe radiation contamination.

The system takes naturally occurring high-velocity particles, called positrons, and directs them toward radioactive isotopes in the soil, breaking the bonds that hold them together. This is done safely under the surface of the soil, so that no radiation is released further into the ground or above the ground in the air. Each positron that comes into contact with the radioactive isotope rejoins an electron and returns it back to its original matter.

The complete results of the experiment will not be announced until September, one year after installation of the system, but officials at Exlterra said in a statement that the measurements taken so far show progress.

“We are on track to reach our longer-term objective of returning the installed zone to baseline or natural levels five years after completion of the installation,” said Frank Muller, the CEO of Exlterra.

“This invention is unique because it is the first of its kind to provide a pathway for positrons to naturally accelerate in a passive system to remove contaminated areas,” added Andrew Niemczyk, the president and CTO of Exlterra. “It harnesses renewable energy sources present in nature to considerably accelerate the natural decomposition process of contaminants in the soil.”

Exlterra has made headlines in recent years with other inventions as well. These products are also eco-friendly, in keeping with Exlterra’s name, which means “Excellence for Earth.”

In 2017, the company unveiled the drill rig HAZL, named after its home town of Hazel Park. Light and flexible, HAZL can maneuver in tight spaces without wear and tear on the earth, allowing it to install underground systems just about anywhere.

The following year, Exlterra unveiled the Nutrient Enrichment Passive System, or NEPS, consisting of a series of polyethylene extrusions installed underground around a tree. NEPS taps into nutrients deep in the soil beyond the reach of tree roots, nourishing the tree and promoting growth, vitality and yield in a sustainable way.

The experiment at Chernobyl could present a scientific breakthrough that will address severe radiation contamination not only there, but at other sites around the world.

“We must learn to manage a heavy legacy while preserving the future. Cleaning up and remediating polluted land is therefore a major priority in order to make them viable again,” Muller said. “Our solution demonstrates that we can do this without chemical artifacts and without condemning or displacing contaminated soil. We also know that today there is no solution for certain types of pollution. Our process is a natural response to this alarming situation.”

Ed Klobucher, the city manager of Hazel Park, said he’s proud that many of Exlterra’s best and brightest minds work in his city.

“Exlterra is simply an amazing company,” Klobucher said. “It’s thrilling that a Hazel Park company has developed a new green technology that is cleaning up one of the most contaminated places on Earth. We are so proud they call Hazel Park home.”