Print 39 comment(s) - last by porkpie.. on Mar 7 at 9:18 PM

So much for safety risks; a new "flytrap" molecule has been discovered that literally gobbles up nuclear waste ions.  (Source: Mercouri Kanatzidis / courtesy Argonne National Laboratory)
Molecule could be used to cleanup Chernobyl and make future plants even safer.

Mercouri Kanatzidis, a scientist at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory, and Nan Ding, a chemist at Northwestern University, have discovered a little molecule that may make a big difference in the nuclear power debate by making nuclear plants safer.

The molecule features a bizarre mechanism in which it behaves like a Venus flytrap, closing selectively on radioactive ions.  That's a big deal as few molecules in the past have shown the potential to effectively and permanently isolate radioactive particles.

The researchers were exploring ways to trap radioactive cesium ions, a dangerous component of nuclear waste water.  Cesium radioactive isotopes typically have a long half life meaning that if they are accidentally released they decay slowly and pose a serious health risk.  One cesium isotope, Cesium-137, which has a half life of 30 years, has played a critical role in maintaining dangerous levels of radioactivity in the Chernobyl disaster zone.  Residents of the region have experienced higher cancer rates and incidences of other problems.

That's why it's so exciting to find a molecule that could potentially isolate those stray particles and allow them to be filtered out of local water supplies -- finding the metaphorical needle in a haystack.

Describes Professor Kanatzidis, "The name of the game in cleaning up nuclear waste is to concentrate the dangerous isotopes as efficiently as possible.  That's where this new material does its job."

The new material is a rigid frame composed of negatively charged metal sulfides.  Its interior has a pore that attracts positively charged ions.  Non-radioactive sodium ions are freely attracted inside the pore, and then interchanged with other sodium ions.  However, when radioactive cesium ions enter the pore, they get stuck.

The researchers discovered the reason behind this.  Sodium, like most positively charged ions, attracts a shell of water that helps to isolate it within the pore.  Cesium, a large ion, only weakly interacts with water, so it's relatively unprotected.  Sulfur atoms in the ring framework around the pore bind to the cesium, changing the shape of the pore, much like a Venus flytrap shutting on its prey.

Professor Kanatzidis elaborates, "Imagine the framework like a Venus flytrap.  When the plant jaws are open, you can drop a pebble in and the plant won't close—it knows it isn't food. When a fly enters, however, the plant's jaws snap shut."

He adds, "As far as we know, this Venus-flytrap process is unique.  It also works over a large range of acidities—an essential property for cleanup at different sites around the world, where pH can range considerably."

The research was published in the prestigious journal 
Nature Chemistry and could lead to discoveries of similar flytrap molecules that could be used to capture other radioactive ions.

Argonne National Laboratory is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, but is privately managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC.  President Barack Obama has recently become a major advocate of the U.S. adopting nuclear power, pushing for more research grants and guaranteed loan funding for new plant construction.

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What a great idea
By FaceMaster on 3/2/2010 7:59:54 AM , Rating: 5
...we'll end up with abnormally large, irradiated, man eating plants all over Russia. Roll on, Stalker 2!

RE: What a great idea
By nafhan on 3/2/2010 8:41:10 AM , Rating: 3
Seriously, I was expecting an article about 6ft. glowing venus flytraps.
At least they had a nuka-cola in the article thumbnail.

RE: What a great idea
By therealnickdanger on 3/2/2010 9:34:13 AM , Rating: 5
I believe that's Nuka-Cola Quantum... very rare and sought out primarily by collectors.

RE: What a great idea
By JonnyDough on 3/3/2010 2:05:35 AM , Rating: 1
Also by people looking to make some REALLY nasty grenades. If this is you, remember to throw them from a distance.

RE: What a great idea
By marvdmartian on 3/2/2010 9:44:30 AM , Rating: 3
Perhaps they could name these filtering units "Audrey II"??

RE: What a great idea
By kyleb2112 on 3/2/2010 10:38:58 AM , Rating: 2
Day of the Triffids FTW. Old school.

RE: What a great idea
By omnicronx on 3/2/2010 1:43:26 PM , Rating: 5
Chernobyl is in Ukraine ;)

RE: What a great idea
By FaceMaster on 3/3/2010 6:39:13 AM , Rating: 3
They both have vodka and upside down letters: they're the same to me.

RE: What a great idea
By Griswold on 3/7/2010 4:38:51 AM , Rating: 2
Ahh, the voice of the uneducated!

It's all in the mind
By superPC on 3/2/2010 10:26:20 AM , Rating: 5
Fission reactor are already safe and there already are scores of way of handling nuclear waste. the fear is all in the minds of the mass. this tech wouldn't help anyone create a new fission reactor as long as people only see chernobyl and hiroshima/nagasaki when someone mention the word nuclear.

RE: It's all in the mind
By xxsk8er101xx on 3/2/2010 11:19:03 AM , Rating: 1
"Trouble mounts for Louisiana's Entergy following radioactive leaks at Vermont nuclear plant"

By therealnickdanger on 3/2/2010 11:51:53 AM , Rating: 3
A leak with zero impact recorded. No illnesses or deaths. Even when there's a problem, looks like even our "old" reactors are pretty safe!

RE: It's all in the mind
By porkpie on 3/2/2010 12:47:01 PM , Rating: 5
Some water onsite had tritium levels of a few micro curies per liter.


So lets see-- assuming we do nothing whatsover, and let that water eventually find its way a few miles into the nearby Connecticut'll mean a radiation dose to the average resident far less than they would get by eating a single banana (bananas contain radioactive potassium)

Radiation is all around us. Foods such as spinach, coconut, even potatoes are very mildly radioactive. Granite countertops are radioactive. Live in a high-altitude city live Denver, and you receive a radiation dose every year 100 times higher than people received from the Three Mile Island "incident". A cross-country plane trip gets you a dose of several millirems.

RE: It's all in the mind
By ClownPuncher on 3/2/2010 1:40:36 PM , Rating: 4
This is why I only eat meat, fruits and vegetables are DANGEROUS

RE: It's all in the mind
By chagrinnin on 3/2/2010 2:01:46 PM , Rating: 2
This explains much. Most clowns are vegans. :P

RE: It's all in the mind
By brshoemak on 3/2/2010 8:46:59 PM , Rating: 2
This explains much. Most clowns are vegans. :P

Is that why they taste funny?

RE: It's all in the mind
By Drag0nFire on 3/5/2010 4:44:02 PM , Rating: 2
Nope. Radioactive C-14. Radiation will get you anyways.

RE: It's all in the mind
By Griswold on 3/7/10, Rating: 0
RE: It's all in the mind
By porkpie on 3/7/2010 9:18:06 PM , Rating: 2
Is someone paying you to make anti-nuclear nutballs appear even more foolish than they already are?

If so, tell them you deserve a bonus.

Screw that waste of time that is uranium
By MrPoletski on 3/2/2010 8:29:29 AM , Rating: 4
And build some damn thorium nuclear reactors already!

VS uranium power there is virtually ZERO waste to clean up.

RE: Screw that waste of time that is uranium
By namechamps on 3/2/2010 12:56:50 PM , Rating: 5
Not even close to true.

Advantages of thorium are:
* no need for enrichment
* more plentiful
* less likely to be able to make weapons
* less long lived (>100,000 year half-life) fission products.

The idea that Thorium is some how "waste free" is a joke.

BTW: I am pro-nuclear energy but misinformation doesn't help a rational debate.

By porkpie on 3/2/2010 1:26:08 PM , Rating: 2
You don't need to enrich uranium either; we have plenty of natural uranium reactors operating, such as CANDU and its derivatives.

By MrPoletski on 3/3/2010 6:01:49 AM , Rating: 2
Nobody ever said it was waste free, just that it comes close to being when you compare it to Uranium.

Storing waste for millions of years >>> storing waste for a hundred.

RE: Screw that waste of time that is uranium
By Mint on 3/4/2010 8:04:38 AM , Rating: 2
* less likely to be able to make weapons

Although MrPoletski didn't elaborate, this is why it's virtually waste free. Nuclear weapons is the reason that most of the world doesn't use breeder technology with uranium, which would reduce waste by 100x or so. With thorium this isn't an issue.

Still, I agree that regular non-breeding uranium-based nuclear technology is pretty damn good. Coal needs >10,000x the fuel for the same energy and if pollutants are scrubbed (even ignoring CO2) the sludge created is larger by a similarly obscene factor.

By porkpie on 3/4/2010 4:28:29 PM , Rating: 2
"Coal needs >10,000x the fuel for the same energy"

Actually, coal needs more like 10,000,000 times the fuel for the same amount of energy. (7+ orders of magnitude)

RE: Screw that waste of time that is uranium
By eachus on 3/4/2010 9:43:27 PM , Rating: 2
The idea that Thorium is some how "waste free" is a joke.

I think he is referring to molten salt reactors. In an MSR molten salt circulates through a graphite core where the nuclear reaction occurs. These convert Th-233 to U-234, which then fissions, so you really aren't doing away with Uranium. However, the really nice feature of MSRs is that you can add waste fuel from boiling water and pressurized water reactors and burn up the transuranics along with the U-235 and U-238. So MSRs are potentially a way to reduce nuclear waste. (Yes, the salt would be nasty stuff if you had to dispose of it when a power plant was decommissioned, but the value of the salt as fuel for a new plant would be in the millions of dollars. (New fuel would require adding U235 from enrichment plants, or Plutonium-239 from breeder reactors or disassembled nuclear weapons.)

The problem with early MSRs were the electromechanical pumps to circulate the salt. I've seen more modern designs using thermal (gravity) circulation and heat pipes to transfer the heat to the working fluid (water) for the power generating turbines. How safe are MSRs? The Air Force actually flew one in a bomber prior to perfecting in-flight refueling. The idea was to use regular jet engines during take-off, and have the molten salt providing the heat source in one or more sustainer engines for cruise. It turned out that mixing nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons in the same airplane (not to mention humans) was not the greatest idea--and in-flight refueling turned out to be a lot easier than expected.

By porkpie on 3/6/2010 11:11:42 AM , Rating: 2
" It turned out that mixing nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons in the same airplane (not to mention humans) was not the greatest idea"

That wasn't the issue. There were 3 factors behind the program cancellation. One was simply that, by the time the program was nearing fruition, improved missile technology made an ultra-long range, long-loiter bomber less valuable to the military. The second was growing anti-nuclear movement in the nation. The third was that a nuclear-powered bomber would have been seen as a major escalation, at a time when the US was attempting to thaw relations with the Soviets (detente was only a few years away).

In regards to thorium waste, any of the GenIV reactors dramatically reduce waste over our current models...the IFR is particularly suited to this role (though I think other designs ultimately have more promise).

The Nuclear Power "Debate"
By MrPeabody on 3/2/2010 9:36:02 AM , Rating: 2
a little molecule that may make a big difference in the nuclear power debate

From what I understand, one side of this debate is largely comprised of appeals to emotion and ignorance. Given this, I think the above quote might be a spot of wishful thinking. After all:

"They're poisoning our water with radiation! Think of the children!"

is really not so far from:

"They're poisoning our water with metal sulfides! Think of the children!"

Of course, I'm neither a nuclear chemist nor an anti-nuclear activist, so I could be mistaken. It's an interesting bit of research in any event.

RE: The Nuclear Power "Debate"
By bobsmith1492 on 3/2/2010 12:43:54 PM , Rating: 5
They're poisoning our water with dihydrogen monoxide!!

RE: The Nuclear Power "Debate"
By Omega215D on 3/3/2010 11:19:40 PM , Rating: 2

RE: The Nuclear Power "Debate"
By JediJeb on 3/4/2010 4:35:22 PM , Rating: 2

RE: The Nuclear Power "Debate"
By Drag0nFire on 3/5/2010 4:47:38 PM , Rating: 2

RE: The Nuclear Power "Debate"
By SoCalBoomer on 3/2/2010 2:11:34 PM , Rating: 2
Instead, try "they're using metal sulfides to filter out radiation! They're thinking of the children!"

This type of process is used commonly to treat just about everything. Find a chemical that will bind with the pollutant you want to remove - this then makes a bigger "piece" which is easier to remove, whether by filtration or by aeration (bubbling) or whatever. . .

Then this filtered mess is further processed to get out of it whatever you can.

RE: The Nuclear Power "Debate"
By MrPeabody on 3/2/2010 4:56:56 PM , Rating: 2
Well, sure, but I'm talking about appeals to emotion and ignorance, not reason.

Believe it when I see it
By Shadowself on 3/2/2010 12:40:27 PM , Rating: 2
He adds, "As far as we know, this Venus-flytrap process is unique. It also works over a large range of acidities—an essential property for cleanup at different sites around the world, where pH can range considerably."

This would be extremely interesting if true.

I was the first person to do non destructive assays of ultra low quantities of transuranics. For most actinides and transuranics the pH is extremely critical, e.g., just going from 6.25N to 6.5N in some solutions made a difference from virtually 100% solubility of some elements to virtually zero solubility. Also separation of actinides from background materials has historically been very chemistry dependent.

While some chemicals will dissolve a broad range of actinides and transuranics, not all actinides or transuranics are dissolved to equal percentages. While it is technically accurate to state that everything gets dissolved to some extent or other, most of these "broad solvents" will dissolve many of these subjects very, very weakly.

A universal solvent that dissolves a broad range of chemicals/elements equally well, holds it until the desired conversion and then releases is "upon command" has been searched for since long before the first creation of aqua regia.

RE: Believe it when I see it
By acase on 3/2/2010 1:07:52 PM , Rating: 2
I was the first person to do non destructive assays of ultra low quantities of transuranics.

Lies. Steve Jobs did it first. Prepare for a lawsuit.

RE: Believe it when I see it
By HVAC on 3/2/2010 9:50:01 PM , Rating: 2
No, no, no .... you mean Chuck Norris! Prepare to be round-housed to death.

RE: Believe it when I see it
By jimhsu on 3/2/2010 6:40:15 PM , Rating: 2
In their example, do they claim that their apparatus can a) differentiate sodium and cesium ions [which is not at all hard with selective chelating agents], or b) their apparatus differentiates between radioactive and non-radioactive cesium isotopes (wtf?!). I say the former because to my knowledge there is no way to construct a molecule to do (b). Still a worthwhile innovation esp. if the binding affinity is extremely high.

RE: Believe it when I see it
By JediJeb on 3/4/2010 4:41:08 PM , Rating: 2
What Normality are you referring to? Depending on the species that is changing from 6.25N to 6.5N, there will be a big difference in pH. Is it CL- or NO3- or Cs ect.

"There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere." -- Isaac Asimov

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