Tohoku University Launches Joint Research on Ganges River Cleanup

A research center at Tohoku University will collaborate to test Japanese accelerator technology for addressing the pollution of the Ganges River in India.

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The Research Center for Electron Photon Science (ELPH) at Tohoku University in Sendai is planning a joint research project with India to clean up the Ganges River, Sankei Shimbun learned on September 28. 

The Ganges, the longest river in India and a major water source for the country, has become increasingly polluted alongside rapid economic growth. Research will focus on applications of Japanese accelerator technology. 

Tohoku University research
People bathing in the Ganges River, Varanasi, northern India, 2018 (Kyodo)

The project will experiment with irradiating high-energy electron beams from an accelerator onto contaminated wastewater flowing into the river to decompose bacteria and harmful substances.

Applying the Technology

According to project leader and ELPH Professor Hiroyuki Hama, the application of accelerator technology may be able to decompose organic fluorine compounds (PFAS). PFAS are chemical substances that are reported to be carcinogenic and have other negative impacts on health, such as weakening immunity. Regulatory measures on PFAS are being implemented in Japan and in countries around the world.

Floating trash on the banks of the Ganges River in India, June 2012 (AP/Kyodo)

ELPH intends to begin the research by the spring of 2024 in cooperation with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the High Energy Accelerator Research Organization (KEK). Once basic data is gathered through experiments, ELPH will expand into joint research with Indian counterparts. 

If the technology can be put to practical use, it would pave the way to addressing the problems of water shortage and PFAS pollution that are worsening in many parts of the world.

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