Solar energy technique cracks nuclear problem

March 31, 2016 | 00:03
The radio active element americium
The radio active element americium
Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have managed to crack a problem that has dogged the nuclear power industry for years. They may be one of the most efficient energy sources available but nuclear waste leaves a long legacy. Americium has always been one of the most difficult elements to remove from nuclear waste pools. It has a half life of over 400 years and is present at a concentration of at least 100 ppm. The researchers have managed to adapt a technique they originally developed at the UNC EFRC (Energy Frontier Research Center of Solar Fuels) to use the sun’s energy to split water into its component parts and store the gases as fuel.
Using the same principle but requiring around twice as much power they found it was possible to strip electrons from americium. Once the three electrons are removed the americium behaves just like plutonium and uranium and can be removed using existing techniques.

Pellets of nuclear fuel are loaded into metal tubes for use in the reactor. To reprocess them the pellets are dissolved with acids to take out the highly radioactive uranium and plutonium which are then recycled for technical and military applications. This leaves low-level radioactive waste including the americium which was always impossible to separate out. Now with the new technique americium will either be separated out along with plutonium and uranium or extracted in a second process.
This makes the resulting radioactive waste much less toxic and significantly less dangerous.
Loading comments...
related items