Solar technology offers nuclear waste solution

Article by Staff Writer

TECHNOLOGY used in solar fuel production has been adapted to remove americium from nuclear fuels, making the waste safer and less toxic.

A research team from the University of North Carolina (UNC), US, have adapted technology they had developed previously that uses solar energy to tear electrons from water molecules to produce hydrogen, so it now strips electrons from americium.

The process requires twice the energy to remove the americium electrons compared to water. However, after the removal of three electrons, the americium has similar properties to plutonium and uranium, which can be removed from the nuclear fuel mixture with existing technologies.

In nuclear reprocessing, once the nuclear fuel pellets are used, the fuel is dissolved in acid to remove the plutonium and uranium components to be recycled, while the rest of the radioactive components are stored as waste. The team aim to use their technology while the fuel is dissolved so that the americium component can be removed either with plutonium and uranium, or in a second step.

Scientists have been trying to remove americium from nuclear waste for decades. Several have come close to a solution only to meet insurmountable problems downstream involving scale up. The UNC team has run its solution to completion without any downstream problems.

The next step for the team will be to enter discussions with nuclear materials experts at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) about extending the research, and possibly scaling-up the technology for industrial use.

Christopher Dares, postdoctoral fellow at UNC, said “With INL working with us, we have a strong foundation for scaling up this technology.

“With a scaled up solution, not only will we no longer have to think about the dangers of storing radioactive waste long-term, but we will have a viable solution to close the nuclear fuel cycle and contribute to solving the world's energy needs.”

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Article by Staff Writer

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