New Way to Recycle Nuclear Waste

Wednesday, March 21, 2012 @ 01:03 PM gHale

A crystalline compound that can safely absorb radioactive ions from nuclear waste streams may soon be able to recycle to provide energy for nuclear power.

Notre Dame Thorium Borate-1 (NDTB-1) is the crystalline compound researchers can tailor to absorb radioactive ions from nuclear waste streams and then exchange for higher charged species of a similar size and then recycle it for re-use, according to a paper by researchers at the University of Notre Dame, led by Thomas E. Albrecht-Schmitt, professor of civil engineering and geological sciences and concurrent professor of chemistry and biochemistry.

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If one considers the radionuclide technetium (99Tc) is present in the nuclear waste at most storage sites around the world, the math becomes simple. There are more than 436 nuclear power plants operating in 30 countries; that is quite a bit of nuclear waste. In fact, approximately 305 metric tons of 99Tc generated from nuclear reactors and weapons testing from 1943 through 2010. Its safe storage has been an issue for decades.

“The framework of the NDTB-1 is key,” Albrecht-Schmitt said. “Each crystal contains a framework of channels and cages featuring billions of tiny pores, which allow for the interchange of anions with a variety of environmental contaminants, especially those used in the nuclear industry, such as chromate and pertechnetate.”

Albrecht-Schmitt’s team has concluded successful laboratory studies using the NDTB-1 crystals, during which they removed 96 percent of 99Tc.

Additional field tests conducted at the Savannah River National Laboratory in Aiken, SC, showed the Notre Dame compound successfully removes 99Tc from nuclear waste and also exhibits positive exchange selectivity for greater efficiency.

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