What's the first thing that pops into your mind when you think of that sovereign of distilled spirits that is whisky?
Is it a smoke-shrouded business lunch with Jon Hamm and the ghost of Ernest Hemingway? Or maybe the time you and your frat bros got your Edward Fortyhands on with some dusty bottles of Old Thompson? Or is it the vomit-speckled, whisky-soaked Cosby Christmas sweater your uncle used to wear?
Whatever the case, what you should really be picturing is a post-apocalyptic hail fire of ballistic missiles raining down on the scorched earth in an act of mutually assured destruction. That's right, things are about to get radi-faded, because scientists might just have discovered a way to use spent whisky grains—a byproduct of whisky production—to clean up radioactive material. And they might just be jamming a whole bunch of said grain down a massive (and massively radioactive) shaft in Scotland.
British scientists have started testing a number of materials to conclude their potential ability to absorb Strontium-90. Among the materials being tested are the following mind-boggling items: crab shells, coffee grounds, seaweed, and of course, grains that have been used in whisky distillation.
Strontium-90 is a radioactive isotope that is found in liquid waste dumped into Scotland's Dounreay Shaft and Silo. Dounreay is a town on the north coast of the Highland area of Scotland, and since the 1950s it has been the site of several nuclear reactors. In 1998, a safety audit was "damning" and recommended the "accelerated decommissioning" of the plant at a cost of £4 billion.
The radioactive waste generated at Dounreay can be found in two underground facilities: the shaft and the silo. The shaft is a what it sounds like—a deep column that collapsed and was used to dump a shitload of radioactive waste until it exploded in 1977. It is said to measure roughly 214 feet below the ground and presents "the world's deepest nuclear clean-up job." After collapsing, the silo, a concrete bunker, was used to dispose of nuclear waste until 1998.
And that's where our courageous whisky grains come into play.
The University of the Highland's Thurso's Environmental Research Institute has partnered with the Dounreay Shaft and Silo Decommissioning Project in the hopes of perfecting their method. The endeavor hopes to use grain, seaweed, shells, coffee grounds, and whisky grains to clean up the nuclear waste. The process by which it hopes to do so is called biosorption, which involves using non-living biological matter as opposed to using artificially made materials.
In other words, they hope to sop up the radioactivity using whisky grains and other stuff.
The project's lead, Mike Gearhart, told the BBC that "We are pleased to be working with Environmental Research Institute to identify a sustainable solution that can be sourced locally." He went on to add that "we still have a number of issues to address but results to date have been very promising."
Whisky. How helpful it is.