At the nanoscale, concrete proves effective for nuclear containment

November 20, 2015 by Anne Wilson Yu, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cooling towers of a nuclear power station. Credit: Petr Kratochvil

One of the main challenges faced by the nuclear industry is the long-term confinement of nuclear waste. Concrete is one of the barrier materials commonly used to contain radionuclides, both in nuclear reactors and nuclear waste-storing facilities. For this reason, it is extremely important that researchers and industry professionals understand the chemical and structural stability of cement (the basic binding ingredient in concrete) containing radioactive materials.

A new study by researchers from the MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub and the joint MIT-French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) lab known as Multi-Scale Materials Science for Energy and Environment (MSE2) is the first to show that is effective for nuclear containment of .

The paper, coauthored by MIT postdoc Lucile Dezerald, visiting scientist Andres Saul, senior research scientist Roland J.-M. Pellenq, and Professor Franz-Josef Ulm, presents research that, for the first time, offers a quantum modeling of cement hydrate at the nano scale. "In short, what the research showed is that cement is a good choice for storing from the fission reaction in ," Pellenq says.

One of the study's key findings is that cement could be a good material to store radioactive strontium-90 and its daughter elements (yttrium and zirconium) from its . This could be highly relevant for improving waste storage conditions in accidental cases, such as the Fukushima Daiichi disaster in March 2011.

The study may also have an impact on considerations around the decommissioning of nuclear plants. "We disconnect the plant from the grid, but the nuclear waste is still there," Pellenq says, noting that the cores of decommissioned nuclear plants from the 1950s in the United Kingdom and France are still intact, as are cores at even older decommissioned plants in the United States. Knowing now that cement can effectively contain nuclear waste materials may buy researchers enough time to sort out the technology and lead to potential long-term solutions.

This is the first nano-metric study using quantum physical chemistry to understand how cement is effective for the storage of intermediate half-life fission products.

Explore further: Extremophile bacteria could be key to solving nuclear problems

More information: Lucile Dezerald et al. Cement As a Waste Form for Nuclear Fission Products: The Case of Sr and Its Daughters , Environmental Science & Technology (2015). DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.5b02609

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3.3 / 5 (3) Nov 20, 2015
Well, the cement we currently use is not the cement that last tens of thousands of years. THAT cement was what the Roman used and its secret was that the lime was pre-cooked by volcanic heat.
So all of our existing nuclear facilities DO NOT withstand nuclear storage. One might misconstrue this to mean storage at existing facilities is safe, it is not.
3.7 / 5 (3) Nov 20, 2015
Well, the cement we currently use is not the cement that last tens of thousands of years.

As they note: "Knowing now that cement can effectively contain nuclear waste materials may buy researchers enough time to sort out the technology and lead to potential long-term solutions."

So this is just a stop-gap measure. There's still no solution available to power plant operators beyond "Dump it somewhere and hope nothing happens until I'm retired".
5 / 5 (2) Nov 20, 2015
The solution has long been known, reprocess the waste and/or burn it up it breeder type reactors.
not rated yet Nov 26, 2015
After reading an article, I am very glad to know that this cement is using a good material and have ability to store radioactive strontium-90 and its elements. These kinds of inventions are very beneficial for us. This cement will very useful, strong and helpful for large buildings. Hope it will more enhance on upcoming years.

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