Two years after the nuclear accident at Chernobyl, the surrounding lakes and streams are finally returning to their original radiation levels. It took that long for Nature to work the nasty poison out of her system.

Should a similar disaster occur today, a new material could do in two weeks what it took Nature two years to accomplish in Chernobyl, predicts Sridhar Komarneni, professor of clay mineralogy at Penn- sylvania State University’s Materials research Lab and Department of Agronomy.

A chemically altered brown mica, known as hydrated sodium phlogopite mica, can immobilize radioactive cesium ions by bonding to the ions and trapping them within its structure. The beauty of this is that the raw material-the mica itself-- a commonly found form of clay, occurring throughout the world in large sheets.

Professors Komarneni and Rustum Roy, Evan Pugh Professor of the Solid State and director of Penn State’s Science, Technology and...

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