Nuclear waste may not be a big challenge any more as scientists have come up with better methods to clean it up. Scientists at Washington State University have improved their understanding of the nuclear waste which could result in better nuclear waste cleanup methods.
Technetium-99, which is a byproduct of plutonium weapons production, was studied by the researchers. It poses as a major challenge for environmental cleanup.
There are about 2,000 pounds of Technetium-99 dispersed within about 56 million gallons of nuclear waste in 177 storage tanks at the Hanford Site nuclear complex in Washington.
A waste treatment plant at Hanford is being built by the US Department of Energy in order to immobilise hazardous nuclear waste in glass.
As all the technetium-99 is incorporated into the glass and volatilised gas must be recycled back into the melter system, the researchers have been stymied.
The element is considered a significant environmental hazard because when in certain forms, it can be very soluble in water and moves easily through the environment.
Earlier research has used less volatile substitutes to try to understand the material’s behaviour since technetium compounds are challenging to work with.
John McCloy, associate professor in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering said some of the compounds themselves have not been studied for 50 years.
In order to better understand technetium-99 and its unique challenges for storage, fundamental chemistry tests were carried out by the researchers.
They determined that the sodium forms of the element behave much differently than other alkalis, which possibly is related to its volatility and to why it may be so reactive with water.
“The structure and spectral signatures of these compounds will aid in refining the understanding of technetium incorporation into nuclear waste glasses,” said McCloy.
The researchers also hope the work will contribute to the study of other poorly understood chemical compounds. The research was published in the journal Inorganic Chemistry.
(With inputs from PTI)