Texas A&M University researchers have devised an easy, proliferation-resistant method for separating out different elements of nuclear waste. The one-step chemical reaction, described in the February situation of the journal Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research, ends in the formation of crystals containing all of the leftover nuclear gas elements distributed uniformly.
The researchers further noted that the simplicity of their recycling approach makes the translation from lab bench to sector feasible.
The idea of energy production in nuclear reactors is thermonuclear fission. In this reaction, a heavy nucleus, normally uranium, when hit by subatomic particles called neutrons, becomes unstable and tears apart into smaller, lighter components.
Nonetheless, uranium can take up neutrons and get progressively heavier to type elements like neptunium, plutonium, and americium, earlier than once again splitting and releasing energy.
Over time, these fission reactions result in a buildup of lighter elements in the nuclear reactor. But roughly half of those fission products are deemed neutron poisons—they also take up neutrons utilized nuclear gas, leaving fewer for the fission reaction, ultimately bringing the energy production to a halt.
Hence, used fuel rods contain fission products, leftover uranium, and small quantities of plutonium, neptunium, and americium. At present, these items are considered nuclear waste in the U.S. and are destined to be stowed away in underground repositories due to their high radioactivity.