Radiation clean up is a messy business. And the usual approach is disturbingly low tech: human beings scrub radioactivity off walls, cars, and so on with soap and water. The dirty water, which is taken away to be further decontaminated, has a tendency to slosh around and leak, and it's heavy and hard to transport. Japanese officials are trying a new approach in the Fukushima cleanup, using a blue goo called DeconGel (see earlier coverage here). The goo is sprayed on to a surface (or applied with a paintbrush), allowed to dry, and then peeled off, bringing radioactive particles with it, like a lint roller on a cat hair–encrusted couch.
It took a lab accident to set CBI Polymers, which makes the gel, on the path to developing it. After cleaning up a pool of spilled experimental fluid, the researchers noticed that the floor was unusually clean. No amount of scrubbing could burnish the surrounding floor to the same pearly white. Three years later, in 2009, they released DeconGel, which has since been used to clean up everything from government labs at the National Energy Technology Laboratory to the Hungarian villages flooded by toxic alkali last year.