Study on element californium could change ballgame on radioactive waste

Mar 23, 2014
Study on element californium could change ballgame on radioactive waste
Graphical representations of Cf[B6O8(OH)5]. Credit: Nature Chemistry, 2014. DOI: 10.1038/nchem.1896

( —Groundbreaking work by a team of chemists on a fringe element of the periodic table could change how the world stores radioactive waste and recycles fuel.

The element is called californium—Cf if you're looking at the Periodic Table of Elements—and it's what Florida State Professor Thomas Albrecht-Schmitt, the lead researcher on the project, calls "wicked stuff."

In carefully choreographed experiments, Albrecht-Schmitt and his colleagues found that californium had amazing abilities to bond and separate other materials. They also found it was extremely resistant to radiation damage.

"It's almost like snake oil," he said. "It sounds almost too good to be true."

Albrecht-Schmitt said that the discoveries could help scientists build new storage containers for radioactive waste, plus help separate radioactive fuel, which means the fuel could be recycled.

"This has real world application," he said. "It's not purely an academic practice."

Albrecht-Schmitt's work, "Unusual Structure, Bonding, and Properties in a Californium Borate," appears published in the newest edition of Nature Chemistry.

But, running the experiments and collecting the data were not small tasks.

After years of working with the U.S. Department of Energy, Albrecht-Schmitt obtained 5 milligrams of californium costing $1.4 million, paid for through an endowment to the university in honor of retired professor Gregory Choppin.

But that tiny, expensive element has opened a whole new world of nuclear chemistry.

"We're changing how people look at californium and how it can be used," Albrecht-Schmitt said.

All of the experiments were conducted at Florida State, but Albrecht-Schmitt also worked with theorists and scientists from nine universities and institutes, including Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which supplied the californium.

David A. Dixon, professor of chemistry at the University of Alabama, and his graduate student, Ted Garner, provided the calculations and theory on why the californium could bond in such unique ways, while scientists at Argonne National Laboratory helped correlate the theory with the experiments. Evgeny Alekseev and Wulf Depmeier of Germany also provided an improved understanding on the atomic structure of californium.

Explore further: Finding common ground fosters understanding of climate change

More information: Unusual structure, bonding and properties in a californium borate. Nature Chemistry, 2014. DOI: 10.1038/nchem.1896

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5 / 5 (3) Mar 23, 2014
That would be pretty cool if it could selectively and stably bind radionucleids. However, at the cost of Californium I have a hard time picturing this in large scale applications.
4 / 5 (1) Mar 23, 2014
but the question is...can you create more californium through transmutation?

(looked it up:'s all created from fission daughter products)

Woo fission! Still making advances...obviously.
not rated yet Mar 23, 2014
Sadly, they don't say which isotope they're using. They're not all the same!
3 / 5 (2) Mar 24, 2014
Sadly this is a Rube Goldberg like process compared with the fast neutron reactor core designs we could be using by now if President Clinton hadn't bowed to political pressure and killed the nations integral fast reactor program right as they were running their first successful prototype that would have extracted about 100 times more energy from uranium fuel and left behind none of the actinides that are such a pain to sore as "waste".
Lex Talonis
not rated yet Mar 25, 2014
Oooooooo a milligram container to store picogram amounts....

Now the first one who cracks Californium - at $5 a KG will be in demand....

not rated yet Mar 25, 2014
Sadly, they don't say which isotope they're using. They're not all the same!
It makes a difference for nuclear applications. This looks more chemical to me, where the exact isotope shouldn't matter. At any rate, I didn't want to pay the freight for the Nature Chemistry article that might or might not answer your question.