One the largest contributors to global water pollution, the textile dyeing industry accounts for one-fifth of all industrial wastewater. However, the world’s leading textile producer is hoping to change that thanks to nuclear technology.
China recently announced that it will open its first wastewater treatment plant that will clean and treat water using an electron beam. The announcement made by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) underscores the importance of nuclear science in addressing global water concerns.
“Despite advances in conventional wastewater treatment technology in recent years, radiation remains the only technology that can treat the most stubborn colorants in wastewater,” said Sunil Sabharwal, Radiation Processing Specialist at the IAEA.
The compounds that are used in textile dyes are made up of complex molecules making it impossible for bacteria, traditionally used in wastewater treatment, to break down the chemicals and clean the water for industrial reuse. What bacteria can’t do nuclear radiation technology can. Through the use of an electron beam, these complex chemical bonds are broken down and removed from the water; allowing for it to be reused.
The Chinese investment in the first wastewater electron beam treatment plant is an important step forward. The United Nations through their water agency and World Water Day have been raising awareness on the importance of the world’s water resources and the impacts that lack of water and water-related disasters have on humanity.
Since 2003, the organization has focused on addressing water issues. “Water is at the core of sustainable development. Water resources, and the range of services they provide, underpin poverty reduction, economic growth and environmental sustainability. From food and energy security to human and environmental health, water contributes to improvements in social wellbeing and inclusive growth, affecting the livelihoods of billions.”
As reported on by Chinese journalists, the impact of the clothing dyeing industry on the health of nearby residents is alarming. In Xintang, the denim capital of the world, the pollution from the East River has also contaminated nearby soils and there is concern that the pollution will spill its way to other waterways, being carried by currents.
While China’s new wastewater treatment plant won’t solve the problem completely, it will help to address some of the country’s water problems. The new facility will treat 1500 cubic meters of wastewater per day, slightly smaller than an Olympic sized swimming pool. If the new plant is successful, it could lead to more opportunities to clean up China’s water supply. The country is also considering using nuclear science to clean up the wastewater at pharmaceutical plants.