LIFE Project Cover Photo

Toward a smart & integral treatment of natural radioactivity in water provision services.

Reference: LIFE16 ENV/ES/000437 | Acronym: LIFE ALCHEMIA



Naturally-occurring radionuclides such as uranium (U) and radium (Ra) are present in water sources. This is a result of the groundwater dilution of minerals rich in radioactive isotopes.

Radionuclides can be absorbed into the bloodstream and accumulate in tissues. World Health Organisation (WHO) studies show that there is a relationship between exposure to low or moderate doses of radioactivity through water and the occurrence of cancer in the medium term. Indeed, radon (Rn) is the second biggest cause of lung cancer after tobacco. Radionuclides in drinking water are also linked to liver damage, leukaemia, bone cancer and stomach cancer.

The 2013 EU Directive on radioactive substances in drinking water sets out requirements for protection of the public from these substances. However, radioactivity in water is still not systematically monitored at European level and there is a need for greater awareness of the issue.

Reverse osmosis (RO) is the most commonly-used technology in wastewater treatment plants for removing radionuclides. However, it has a very high carbon footprint and generates large volumes of reject water containing radioactivity, which requires further treatment.


Life ALCHEMIA aims to demonstrate integrated and cost effective solutions for removing naturally-occurring radioactivity from drinking water. It will test four different configurations at pilot plants in Spain and Estonia. These will be based on the use of bed filters and hydrous manganese oxide (HMO) technology.

Specific objectives are as follows:

  • To implement four pilot plants (three bed filters and one HMO plant) to reduce the generation of naturally-occurring radioactive materials in water by 90%;
  • To reduce the cost of water depuration by up to five times compared to RO treatment;
  • To analyse and manage the waste generated by the new water treatment process, as part of a life-cycle approach to radioactivity in water; and
  • To replicate the results of the project at water treatment plants in five other European countries.
  • Life ALCHEMIA will promote the protection of human health against radioactive substances in drinking water, contributing directly to the implementation of 2013 EU Directive on radioactive substances in drinking water.

    Expected results:

  • Implementation and demonstration of three filter-based pilot plants and one HMO pilot plant, with removal rates of 90% of gross alpha and beta activity, and 75-90% reductions in the concentrations of specific radionuclides (U and Ra);
  • Water indicative doses below 0.1 mSv/yr, making the treated water safe for human consumption (drinking water);
  • An 80% reduction in treatment costs compared to RO systems;
  • An 80-90% reduction in the general environmental impact compared to RO systems;
  • An 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to RO systems, producing savings of 60 tCO2eq per year of operation;
  • A cost benefit analysis of the new systems and transfer of results to at least five facilities in different EU Member States;
  • Establishment of a thematic network (LinkedIn group) on the removal of radioactivity in drinking water services; and
  • Better management of radioactivity by competent authorities.


    Reference: LIFE16 ENV/ES/000437
    Acronym: LIFE ALCHEMIA
    Start Date: 02/10/2017
    End Date: 30/09/2021
    Total Eligible Budget: 1,339,936 €
    EU Contribution: 803,960 €
    Project Location:


    Coordinating Beneficiary: Fundacin CARTIF
    Legal Status: PNC
    Address: Parque tecnolgico de Boecillo, 205. Boecillo., 47151, Boecillo. VaLLADOLID,
    Contact Person: Sergio SANZ
    Email: Send Email
    Website: Visit Website

    LIFE Project Map



    • Human health protection
    • Water quality improvement


    • water quality
    • hazardous substance
    • public health
    • human exposure to pollutants


    Name Type
    Fundacin CARTIF Coordinator
    Centro de Investigación en Energía Solar - Centro Mixto Universidad de Almeria/Plataforma Solar de Almería, Spain Participant
    VWL(Viimsi Vesi Ltd), Estonia Participant
    DIPUTACIÓN DE ALMERIA, Spain Participant
    University of Tartu, Estonia Participant
    Tallinn University of Technology, Estonia Participant