Joint Press Release of TU Dresden and HZDR of 02. Mai 2023

Nuclear safety research: Joint project FENABIUM II investigates interactions of radioactive substances with biological systems

In the joint project FENABIUM II, researchers from Technische Universität Dresden, Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) and Leipzig University are investigating the interactions of the so-called f-elements with biomolecules. The aim of the basic research project is to use the findings to derive structure-activity principles that come into effect if these elements were set free in geo- and bio systems. Hence, the project should permit a risk assessment, especially with regard to the entry of these elements into the food chain. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research is funding the joint project with a total of almost 2.9 million euros.

Foto: Joint project FENABIUM ©Copyright: AK Weigand

Joint project FENABIUM

Source: AK Weigand


The last nuclear power plants in Germany were shut down in April 2023. Now the question of safe disposal of the radioactive material is at the forefront. To ensure the protection of people and the environment, the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research is funding scientific projects in the field of nuclear safety research. This includes the joint project "FENABIUM II - Studies on the interactions of f-elements with biologically relevant structural motifs: Derivation of basic structure-activity principles for mobilization in the environment" which follows the successful predecessor project FENABIUM (2016-2021). The research consortium, led by Jan J. Weigand, Professor of Inorganic Molecular Chemistry at Technische Universität Dresden, aims to gain a better understanding of the fundamental processes responsible for the transport and accumulation of radiotoxic elements in the geo- and biosphere, in particular the food chain. In this way, the team wants to derive basic principles for models of a possible spread of these elements in the environment, but also to develop approaches for decontamination.

The project focuses on the so-called f-elements. On the one hand, these include the lanthanides, which are often also referred to as "rare earths". They are fission products, but also critical raw materials for the energy transition and are used primarily in electronic devices. These are, for example, the elements neodymium, europium or gadolinium. On the other hand, the actinoids also belong to the group of f-elements. These are of decisive importance for nuclear technology and questions of safe repository. They include the naturally occurring elements thorium and uranium, as well as the reactor-generated elements neptunium, plutonium, americium and curium. Furthermore, the mining and processing of lanthanides also poses risks of accidental release. In Saxony in particular, there are remnants of uranium mining from GDR times.

How do the f-elements behave after they have been released into the environment and, above all, how can they be removed from it? To find efficient solutions to this problem, a detailed understanding of the behavior of these elements in the environment is necessary. In particular, the question of how f-elements enter and spread in the food chain has been inadequately explored so far. The interdisciplinary consortium of researchers from the fields of inorganic, bioanalytical, food, coordination and radiochemistry will investigate these questions over the next three years. In the joint project, bioinspired model compounds will first be set up, then the formed f-element complexes will be structurally characterized and their thermodynamic parameters determined in order to gain a fundamental understanding of the prevailing interactions. Furthermore, studies are carried out on selected amino acids and peptide sequences as well as on food-relevant proteins. In focus are caseins, the most important group of milk proteins from a quantitative point of view. "Building on the knowledge gained from the model ligands, we can transfer the results to overall biological systems," explains project director Prof. Jan J. Weigand, adding, "The intensive collaboration with Prof. Thorsten Stumpf at the HZDR and Prof. Berthold Kersting at the Leipzig University is important for gaining in-depth knowledge. While the latter allows a systematic investigation of cooperative effects by using more complex platforms, the wide-ranging expertise as well as the excellent infrastructure for work with actinides at HZDR is essential for a comprehensive investigation of the problem and will significantly increase the chances of success of the joint project."

Another important aspect of the project is the training and promotion of young scientists in the field of nuclear safety research. In addition to the scientific qualification of the PhD students directly involved in FENABIUM II - both at the project partners and during research stays of several months at cooperation partners in European and non-European countries - further measures such as Summer Schools and knowledge transfer in the form of a "Radioecology Open Online Module" ( ROOM) are part of FENABIUM II.


On April 1, 2023, the follow-up project FENABIUM II started, building on the findings and successful cooperation of the collaborative partners in the FENABIUM project. Under the lead of Prof. Jan J. Weigand from Inorganic Molecular Chemistry at Technische Universität Dresden, Prof. Eike Brunner (Bioanalytical Chemistry, Technische Universität Dresden), Prof. Thomas Henle (Food Chemistry, Technische Universität Dresden), Dr. Margret Acker (Central Radionuclide Laboratory, Technische Universität Dresden), Prof. Berthold Kersting (Inorganic Chemistry/Coordination Chemistry, Leipzig University) as well as Prof. Thorsten Stumpf (Institute for Resource Ecology, HZDR) are working on various subprojects. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research is funding the research network with a total of almost 2.9 million euros. The research activities funded by the BMBF will make a substantial contribution to the establishment, further development and maintenance of scientific and technical competence and to the promotion of young scientists in the field of nuclear waste management in Germany. FENABIUM II is a successful example of the cooperation of Dresden research institutions in the science alliance DRESDEN-concept e.V.


Further information:

Prof. Jan J. Weigand I Chair of Inorganic Molecular Chemistry
TU Dresden
Phone: +49 351 463-42800

Prof. Thorsten Stumpf I Institute for Resource Ecology
Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf
Phone: +49 351 260-3210

Media Contact:

Simon Schmitt | Head
Communications and Media Relations at HZDR
Phone: +49 351 260 3400 | Email: