Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Symbol of the Sunflower


 One of the first things I noticed when I started working at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation was the prevailing theme of the sunflower. Pictures of these beautiful, radiant flowers adorned the walls throughout the office, and although I primarily thought that these sunflowers were just a reflection of the sunny and cheerful city the office is located in, Santa Barbara, a little research revealed to me that the flowers hold a much deeper, symbolic value.

The radioactive spill from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant on March 11th, 2011, caused by the tsunami and earthquake that struck Japan, is the most devastating nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. Although no longer operating, the power plant has been reported to be leaking significant amounts of radioactive substances into the environment. In effort to clean up the radiation and toxicity in the soil of the affected area, community projects have been launched, utilizing a single tool for absorption: sunflowers.

One project, known as the Fukushima Sunflower Foster Parent Project, sells sunflower seeds to volunteers, or “sunflower foster parents,” who will then take responsibility to harvest the seeds that are due to be planted in Fukushima this year. The roots of sunflowers posses a remarkable ability to absorb radiation from soil with a much faster rate than most other plants. The process of soil cleansing itself naturally from radiation can take up to 30 years. With the help of sunflowers however, studies have shown that 95% of radiation from soil can be removed within just 20 days. Koyu Abe, a Buddhist monk from Joenji temple, has also turned to Mother Nature to restore the barren land by harvesting seeds of sunflowers and other plants. He has been responsible for planting hundreds of these bright-petaled beauties in Fukushima.

This is not the first time that sunflowers have been utilized for their cleansing quality. In Ukraine, scientists planted sunflowers on a raft floating above a pond that had been severely contaminated by the catastrophic Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986. The roots of the sunflowers were successfully able to extract radionuclide cesium 137 and strontium 90 from the pond.

The sunflower’s quality to cleanse has been symbolically utilized as well. In 1996, Ukraine, who once carried the third largest nuclear weapons arsenal in the world, disarmed its nuclear weapons that it had inherited from the Soviet Union and joined the league of non-nuclear nations. A ceremony took place at the Pervomaisk nuclear military base, a site that once housed 80 missiles aimed at the United States, attended by the Defense Ministers of Ukraine, Russia, and the United States. At Pervomaisk, the three Defense Ministers planted sunflower seeds on the soil, symbolically commemorating the end of Ukraine’s nuclear arsenal and the beginning of Ukraine’s commitment to a world free of nuclear weapons. "Sunflowers instead of missiles in the soil would ensure peace for future generations," stated former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry.

Whether sunflowers can prove successful in decontaminating the soil of Fukushima is to be discovered. One scientific study pointed that as 95% of the radiation in Fukushima lies in the top soil, the sunflower root, which delves deeper into the ground, won’t be able to access the radiation. However, the healing quality of sunflowers can be found in not just what the flower can absorb, but what it can release. The sunflower’s tall, majestic stems and radiant, golden petals hold an aesthetic quality that will undeniably create a breathtaking landscape within the barren, disaster-stricken region of Fukushima. Moreover, the shared, community-experience of planting flowers can be seen as an act of rejuvenation, restoration and hope for a brighter future.

You too can harvest seeds of peace. Plant sunflowers at places in your community that can use a little beautification, or buy the mammoth gray sunflower Seeds of Peace that NAPF sells at their Peace Store.

4 comments:

  1. Wow! The thought of a "sea" of sunflowers has brightened my day. May we take your lesson to heart and plant not only sunflowers but plants and flowers that help sustain butterflys and birds.

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  2. Thanks’ for letting me know of this wonderful and virtuous plant. Also, the fact that sunflowers “follow” the sun to get the maximum solar energy, should be a constant reminder for us to rely on such clean, natural, and sustainable energy sources, instead of dangerous and non-renewable nuclear energy.

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  3. Great article, great comments!

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  4. Even before former War Secretary Perry planted sunflowers, direct disarmament activists in the United States planted sunflowers inside nuclear missile silo launch sites in the American midwest, as part of the Missouri Peace Planters actions of the late 1980s. Let's celebrate the activists at the grassroots - it was their idea first!

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