Proving there's no science like accidental science, Northwestern researchers looking for materials to facilitate ion exchange have discovered a "Venus flytrap" for radioactive cesium that has the potential filter out 100 percent of the nasty stuff in nuclear waste. Made of gallium, sulfur and antimony compound, the synthetic material is highly selective in what it will seize, but in lab tests it snatched every single cesium ion from a sodium-rich solution designed to mimic the makeup of nuclear leftovers.
One reason radioactive nuclear waste is so difficult to clean up is the high ratio of sodium to cesium, which can reach 1,000:1. Picking out the radioactive ions in nuclear plant waste, for instance, would mean a good deal of water could be returned to the water cycle, and less storage space would be needed for nuclear waste materials. But filtering the cesium needles from a sodium haystack is beyond difficult.
The Northwestern material is a layered structure that creates many tiny pores or "windows." As the liquid flows through, organic ions already in the material flow out and the big soft cesium ions -- due to a natural attraction to the sulfer in the material -- flow in. The two form a weak bond, which causes the material to change shape, closing the "window" and trapping the cesium in the material. The water-shrouded sodium molecules don't trigger this response, passing right through the material and coming out cesium-free on the other side.
Just like that, the team suddenly had a breakthrough in nuclear waste remediation on their hands, significant not only because it can help reduce the volume of radioactive waste that needs storing, but because it can cut down on the vast volumes of water that get thrown out with nuclear waste. As a bonus, if the cesium can be harvested from the material, it might also be repurposed for other applications. Not bad for an accidental discovery.
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what, pray tell, is "sulfer?"
This is a huge breakthrough. Now lets start adding more reactors to our grid and get away from coal. Please.
Well and not only could the cesium be stored but if there is a chance that the process could be reversed and the radioactive cesium recovered couldn't the pure radioactive cesium be repurposed into a low temperature reactor? Extend the lifespan of the radioactive material and you reduce the storage requirements even more, not to mention making nuclear energy even more cost effective.
This is awesome news.
And @ajohnson1986 I am sure that if we worked at it we could find a use for the material once it is in a more pure and usable state.
We could give it to Iran! we can just drop it from planes with little metal containers.
I would recommend long range space probe power supply. we already have plenty of weapons for things like that.
There is another possible huge breakthrough, without any radioactive nuclear waste, the aneutronic reactor, it does not produce neutrons and can generate huge quantities of electricity efficiently. www.crossfirefusor.com/nuclear-fusion-reactor/overview.html