Glass offers improved means of storing UK's nuclear waste

Aug 22, 2012

University of Sheffield researchers have shown, for the first time, that a method of storing nuclear waste normally used only for high level waste, could provide a safer, more efficient, and potentially cheaper, solution for the storage and ultimate disposal of intermediate level waste.

ILW makes up more than three quarters of the volume of material destined for geological disposal in the UK. (1)

Currently the UK's preferred method is to encapsulate ILW in specially formulated cement. The is mixed with cement and sealed in steel drums, in preparation for disposal deep underground.

Two studies, published in the latest issues of The Journal of and European Journal of Science and Technology A show that turning this kind of waste into glass, a process called vitrification, could be a better method for its long-term storage, transport and eventual disposal.

HLW is already processed using this technology which reduces both the and the volume of the waste produced. Until now, this method has not been considered suitable for ILW because the technology was not developed to handle large quantities of waste composed from a variety of different materials.

The research programme, funded by the UK's NDA and led by Professor Neil Hyatt in the Department of , at the University of Sheffield, tested simulated radioactive – those with the same chemical and physical makeup, but with non-radioactive isotopes – to produce glass and assess its suitability for storing lower grades of .

The process used to produce the glass waste storage packages is straightforward: the waste is dried, mixed with glass forming materials such as iron oxide or sodium carbonate, heated to make glass and finally poured into a container. For certain wastes – for example radioactively contaminated sand – the waste is actually used in the glass-making process.

A key discovery made by the Sheffield team was that the glasses produced for ILW proved to be very resistant to damage by energetic gamma rays, produced from the decay of radioactive materials. "We found that gamma irradiation produced no change in the physical properties of these glasses, and no evidence that the residual radiation caused defects," says Professor Hyatt. "We think this is due to the presence of iron in the glass, which helps heal any defects so they cannot damage the material."

"For large volumes of waste that need to be stored securely, then transported to and eventually disposed of, vitrification could offer improved safety and cost effectiveness" explains Professor Hyatt.

Dr Darrell Morris, Research Manager, NDA said "We welcome this fundamental research demonstrating a possible alternative means of treating ILW. We look forward to seeing further progress on the applicability of this technology to the UK's waste inventory"

Explore further: New process can convert human-generated waste into fuel in space

More information: (1) Radioactive Waste in the UK: The 2010 Estimate of Radioactive Waste for Geological Disposal

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

DIAMOND to tackle UK nuclear waste issues

May 01, 2008

The long-term problem of how to manage and dispose of Britain’s nuclear waste is to be tackled by a UK consortium headed by the University of Leeds.

Recommended for you

Electronic switches on the molecular scale

Nov 25, 2014

A molecular electronic switch is a junction created from individual molecules that can alternate between two or more stable states, making the switch act as a conductor or an insulator. These switches show ...

Mimicking photosynthesis with man-made leaves

Nov 25, 2014

Scientists have long been trying to emulate the way in which plants harvest energy from the sun through photosynthesis. Plants are able to absorb photons from even weak sunlight using light antennae made ...

User comments : 5

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Doug_Huffman
1 / 5 (1) Aug 22, 2012
I pray glassificaiton is good enough for UK regulators 'cause it ain't good enough for Dirty Harry Reid's intellectual wasteland. Reopen Yucca Mountain!
ArtflDgr
1 / 5 (1) Aug 22, 2012
Its all a joke...
having to store that kind of material will not be required for 1000 years... we are less than 200 years to ubiquitous space flight. when that happens, you point the crap to the sun in a straight line, no orbit and that's the end of that... (and for the greenies out there, you cant pollute the sun. in fact the whole earth could fall into it, and it would barely burp)

so either they are too stupid to look at the rest of the world, or ubiquitous space flight will never be allowed (permanent high ground)...

Modernmystic
1 / 5 (1) Aug 22, 2012
....Or you could just burn up the waste in the reactor and make more energy to boot...
casualjoe
not rated yet Aug 22, 2012

you cant pollute the sun. in fact the whole earth could fall into it, and it would barely burp

Good thing the Earth's not really falling into the sun then..
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Aug 23, 2012
having to store that kind of material will not be required for 1000 years... we are less than 200 years to ubiquitous space flight.

Producing waste because of a "maybe in the future we can deal with it more easily" is not a convincing solution. Certainly not one that will fly with anyone even remotely sane. because a 'maybe' can also turn out to be "oops - we didn't get there"...and then that future generation will be screwed royally.

(On an (un)related note: I thought we all would be having flying cars and huge sace stations 20 years ago - whatever happened to that promise?)

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.