Technology makes storing radioactive waste safer

Oct 31, 2011
Professor Huai-Yong Zhu from QUT Chemistry

(PhysOrg.com) -- Queensland University of Technology (QUT) researchers have developed new technology capable of removing radioactive material from contaminated water and aiding clean-up efforts following nuclear disasters.

The innovation could also solve the problem of how to clean up millions of tonnes of water contaminated by dangerous radioactive material and safely store the concentrated waste.

Professor Huai-Yong Zhu from QUT Chemistry said the world-first intelligent absorbent, which uses titanate nanofibre and nanotube technology, differed from current clean-up methods, such as layered clays and zeolites, because it could efficiently lock in deadly radioactive material from contaminated water.

The used absorbents can then be safely disposed without the risk of leakage, even if the material became wet.

"One gram of the nanofibres can effectively purify at least one tonne of polluted water," Professor Zhu said.

"This saves large amounts of dangerous water needing to be stored somewhere and also prevents the risk of contaminated products leaking into the soil."

The technology, which was developed in collaboration with the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) and Pennsylvania State University in America, works by running the contaminated water through the fine nanotubes and fibres, which trap the (Cs+) ions through a structural change.

"Every year we hear of at least one nuclear accident. Not only is there a risk of contamination where human error is concerned, but there is also a risk from such as what we saw in Japan this year," he said.

Professor Zhu and his research team believed the technology would also benefit industries as diverse as mining and medicine.

By adding silver oxide nanocrystals to the outer surface, the nanostructures are able to capture and immobilise (I-) ions used in treatments for , in probes and markers for medical diagnosis, as well as found in leaks of nuclear accidents.

"It is our view that just taking the radioactive material in the adsorbents isn't good enough. We should make it safe before disposing it," he said.

"The same goes for Australian sites where we mine nuclear products. We need a solution before we have a problem, rather than looking for fixes when it could be too late."

With a growing need to find alternatives to meet global energy needs, Professor Zhu said now was the time to put safeguards in place.

"In France, 75 per cent of electricity is produced by nuclear power and in Belgium, which has a population of 10 million people there are six nuclear power stations," he said.

"Even if we decide that nuclear energy is not the way we want to go, we will still need to clean-up what's been produced so far and store it safely," he said.

"Australia is one of the largest producers of titania that are the raw materials used for fabricating the absorbents of titanate nanofibres and nanotubes. Now with the knowledge to produce the adsorbents, we have the technology to do the cleaning up for the world."

Explore further: Smoke flavourings and water vapour permeable bags for new fish smoking techniques

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Scientists find safer ways to detect uranium minerals

Nov 21, 2006

The threat of "dirty" bombs and plans to use nuclear power as an energy source have driven Queensland University of Technology scientists to discover a new, safer way of detecting radioative contamination in the ground. Professor ...

Japan suspends waste water nuclear operation

Jun 18, 2011

Tokyo Electric Power Co. Saturday halted an operation to clean highly contaminated waste water at a crippled Japanese nuclear plant due to higher-than-expected radiation levels.

Recommended for you

A renewable bioplastic made from squid proteins

17 hours ago

In the central Northern Pacific is an area that may be the size of Texas called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Made up of tons of floating plastic debris, the patch is killing seabirds and poisoning marine ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.