Researchers discover new way of 'locking up' radioactive material

March 7, 2016 by Joe Paxton

Researchers at The University of Manchester have discovered that an iron oxide mineral, hematite, reacts with radioactive neptunium to 'lock it up' within its structure. This could have profound implications for the environmental behaviour of the radioactive contaminant, as it may offer a new way to clean up areas contaminated with radioactive material.

Neptunium is a synthetic element which is generated as a by-product in conventional . It has a long half-life, meaning it will be around for millions of years, and it is potentially very mobile in the environment. The team worked with colleagues at Diamond Light Source, the UK's national , which harnesses the power of electrons to produce high-powered X-ray beams which can be used to study samples at the atomic level. There, they observed neptunium's behaviour during the formation of iron oxides particles, and found that it formed chemical bonds within the mineral structure. This indicates that it could be strongly bound within the mineral over a long period of time, potentially immobilising this environmental contaminant. The final outcome could mean that neptunium is locked up in the mineral for the long term.

The team's paper, published this month in the Environmental Science & Technology journal, is part of a large research proposal funded by the Natural Environment Research Council which looked at geological disposal of radioactive wastes. Their work has also been aided by the STFC Environmental Radioactivity Network, enabling the team to perform the first experiments at Diamond on this radioactive element.

"With our colleagues based at Diamond Light Source, we worked hard to analyse the radioactive, neptunium containing samples. This paid off, as we confirmed for the first time that neptunium can be locked up in the structure of iron minerals. This offers fresh insights into its environmental behaviour and new pathways to lock up radioactive elements in contaminated waste streams and environmental systems, said Dr Katherine Morris (The University of Manchester), who executed the research.

"Using Diamond Light Source to analyse neptunium is helping us to understand how processes occurring at the atom scale can determine the environmental behaviour of this radioactive element," said Dr Sam Shaw, who worked with Dr Morris on the project.

Explore further: Encouraging minerals to capture troubling radionuclides

More information: Pieter Bots et al. Controls on the fate and speciation of neptunium-(V) during iron (oxyhydr)oxide crystallization., Environmental Science & Technology (2016). DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.5b05571

Related Stories

Encouraging minerals to capture troubling radionuclides

May 8, 2015

Associated with contamination in certain spots around the world, pentavalent neptunium does not always behave the same as its stand-in when moving through the soil, according to scientists at University of Notre Dame and ...

UK science leads the way in nuclear research

February 14, 2016

The UK's synchrotron science facility, Diamond Light Source, is a hub for renewable energy and energy recycling research, but less well known are its applications as a hub for nuclear research. Work in this area is transforming ...

Recommended for you

Fast, efficient sperm tails inspire nanobiotechnology

December 2, 2016

Just like workers in a factory, enzymes can create a final product more efficiently if they are stuck together in one place and pass the raw material from enzyme to enzyme, assembly line-style. That's according to scientists ...

Biodegradable polymers made by chemical vapor deposition

December 1, 2016

Polymerization by chemical vapor deposition (CVD) is a simple method for modifying surfaces by which topologically challenging substrates can be evenly coated with polymers. In the journal Angewandte Chemie, researchers have ...

Controlling chain conformations to enhance electronic devices

December 1, 2016

Controlling the way fluorinated polymer chains twist and turn may enable fast and flexible electrical circuits, according to collaborative research conducted at Penn State. The findings may offer substantial impact on the ...

0 comments

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.