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Researchers at Northwestern University are developing a more efficient method for sanitizing liquid nuclear waste.

A lot of time and money have gone into nuclear research and development lately, along with studies concerning whether or not it's a feasible and scalable means for power in the near and far future. Though seen less in the media, the problem of what to do with all the waste products from reactors is nevertheless a growing concern as countries postulate nuclear power for their growing or developing infrastructures.

Current materials used for cleansing nuclear waste of radioactive materials include metal oxides and polymer resins, but their performance is limited to working well in an either basic or acidic solution. A new material developed at Northwestern University, called KSM-1, does a more thorough job in both conditions, and across the entire pH spectrum. The material is composed of layers of potassium, manganese, tin and sulfur.

KSM-1 has proven to be very efficient in removing strontium, one of the more dangerous byproducts of nuclear fission, from a mock solution composed of sodium and non-radioactive strontium. The non-radioactive version of the element reacts identically to strontium-90, the harmful ion found in nuclear waste.

"It is a very difficult job to capture strontium in vast amounts of liquid nuclear waste. Sodium and calcium ions, which are nonradioactive, are present in such enormous amounts compared to strontium that they can be captured instead of the radioactive material, interfering with remediation," said Mercouri G. Kanatzidis, Charles E. and Emma H. Morrison Professor of Chemistry at the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern. "The metal sulfide did much, much better than we expected at removing strontium in such an excess of sodium. We were really amazed at how well it discriminates against sodium and think we have something special. As far as we can tell, this is the best material out there for this kind of application."

The removal of radioactive particles from liquid nuclear waste could allow the safer storage or disposal of the harmful byproducts and the remaining purified water to be recycled or safely drained to other facilities.

The group's work was published online last week at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) in a paper titled "Layered Metal Sulfide: Exceptionally Selective Agents for Radioactive Strontium Removal."



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RE: Alternative
By masher2 (blog) on 3/10/2008 11:59:48 AM , Rating: 5
Russia has been dumping nuclear waste into the shallow waters of the Barents Sea for decades.

I wouldn't advise that, as the depth there is too low to prevent surface currents from causing possible problems, but dropping it somewhere such as the Tonga or Mariana Trench would be more than safe. There's many millions of times more natural radioactivity in the ocean than what we could ever add. As long as you reprocess the plutonium first, it would be both safe and cheap.


RE: Alternative
By EvilBlitz on 3/10/2008 2:37:31 PM , Rating: 2
I am always amazed at how people can think this is safe. We still don't know the marine ecosystem that well and I would prefer we store it inside a mountain rather than dump it an area where we have ZERO understanding of its ecosystem and how it could impact. Never assume as we know what assumption is the mother of.


RE: Alternative
By daInvincibleGama on 3/10/2008 10:08:17 PM , Rating: 2
masher is right that there is tons of radioactivity in the ocean. But adding a chemical radioactive agent might mess things up. Just look at depleted Uranium (used in conventional weapons), which becomes Uranium Oxide quickly, and people inhale that and have a mildly radioactive agent stuck in their lungs, increasing risk of cancer over time. We don't know how sustained adding of radioactive material could affect the oceans basic reactions a while from now. People thought rivers and oceans could take all the mercury and fertilizer we could dump and have no noticeable change. We're paying for that now.

Thinking that oceans can take all our shit is dangerous. But a little more research could clear things up.


RE: Alternative
By andrinoaa on 3/10/08, Rating: -1
RE: Alternative
By Oregonian2 on 3/12/2008 12:21:25 PM , Rating: 2
That's probably why glassification was mentioned to be done to the stuff first. No dust, no (I think) oxidation. Chunks of glass...


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