Land blighted by the nuclear fallout from the Chernobyl disaster could be cleaned up by growing biofuel crops, scientists say.
The Belarus government has teamed up with Irish firm Greenfield to build one of Europe's largest bioethanol plants which would convert crops grown on contaminated land into fuel.
According to online resource, the Environmental Data Interactive Exchange (EDIE), the crops would grow on land not yet suitable for food production following the meltdown of the Chernobyl reactor over two decades ago.
The land is still very fertile and therefore ideal for crop production. Growing the crops would have the added benefit of helping to clean-up the land as they absorb toxins in the soil. Greenfield plan to use the project to study how the crops can help return the land back to full use and will use the Chernobyl land as part of a wider study into the environmental benefits of biofuel production on contaminated land.
Greenfield chairwoman Ann McClain told the online publication: "Greenfield's plan to produce bio-ethanol will use land which has been contaminated by radioactive isotopes to cultivate biomass crops for the ethanol distilleries.
"At the same time, we believe that growing the biomass crops will work to clean up the affected areas.
"At a later stage, when we move on to second-generation cellulose ethanol, there will be even greater advantages which will mean faster bio-cleaning of the contaminated zones.
"We hope we can build on research, field trials, and the experience we accumulate to go on to a comprehensive programme to use biological methods to clean up the areas affected by Chernobyl.
"The benefits will be economic, of course, but above all they will be social and environmental."