Researchers crack 50-year-old nuclear waste problem, make storage safer

March 16, 2016

Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have adapted a technology developed for solar energy in order to selectively remove one of the trickiest and most-difficult-to-remove elements in nuclear waste pools across the country, making the storage of nuclear waste safer and nontoxic—and solving a decades-old problem.

The work, published in Science, not only opens the door to expand the use of one of the most efficient energy sources on the planet, but also adds a key step in completing the cycle—an advance, along with wind and solar, that could help power the world's energy needs cleanly for the future.

"In order to solve the nuclear waste problem, you have to solve the problem," said Tom Meyer, Arey Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at UNC's College of Arts and Sciences, who led the study.

Americium doesn't have the same name recognition as a plutonium and uranium, but researchers have been trying to remove it from for decades. Several groups initially succeeded, only to be met with several subsequent problems down the line, rendering the solution unfeasible. Meyer and his team, including Chris Dares, who spearheaded the project, have found a way to remove the radioactive element without encountering downstream problems that have hindered progress.

The technology Meyer and Dares developed is closely related to the one used by Meyer at the UNC Energy Frontier Research Center of Solar Fuels to tear electrons from water molecules. In the americium project, Meyer and Dares adapted the technology to tear electrons from americium, which requires twice as much energy input as splitting water. By removing those three electrons, americium behaves like plutonium and uranium, which is then easy to remove with existing technology.

Dares describes that nuclear fuel is initially used as small solid pellets loaded into long, thin rods. To reprocess them, the used fuel is first dissolved in acid and the plutonium and uranium separated. In the process, americium will either be separated with plutonium and uranium or removed in a second step.

Meyer and Dares worked closely with Idaho National Laboratory (INL), who provided research support and technical guidance on working with nuclear materials. Most of the experiments were carried out in the laboratories at Idaho, which provided a safe area to work with radioactive material. At present, INL and UNC-Chapel Hill are in discussion about extending the research and to possible scale up of the technology.

"With INL working with us, we have a strong foundation for scaling up this technology," said Dares. "With a scaled up solution, not only will we no longer have to think about the dangers of storing radioactive waste long-term, but we will have a viable solution to close the nuclear fuel cycle and contribute to solving the world's energy needs. That's exciting."

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55 comments

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Arrowstone
5 / 5 (2) Mar 16, 2016
I'm a little behind I guess. I thought the major problem was removing the curium, which tends to decay forward to highly radioactive californium. Not so?
Caliban
3.6 / 5 (8) Mar 17, 2016
A partial solution, at best, but better than nothing, I suppose, even if only barely so.
gkam
1.3 / 5 (14) Mar 17, 2016
Oh, really? And the radioactivity just goes away?

Everything used in this game will itself become too dangerous to touch. When are we going to outgrow this idea?
gkam
1.3 / 5 (12) Mar 17, 2016
Send this stuff to Willie and Stumpy, who think alike.

I suggest they look up Hanford babies, and Chernobyl Children, then come back with their apologies for nukes.
antialias_physorg
4.1 / 5 (9) Mar 17, 2016
Note that the americium doesn't get any less radioactive by this process.
Separating it out is good. It doesn't solve the waste problem, though, which is safety of long term storage. It may only reduce the volume of stored waste a bit.

And in the end there's always the question whether it's better to store a lot of medium level radioactive waste or a less high level radioactive waste. In terms of space the latter is preferrable. In terms of security (i.e. what someone may be up to who gets a hold of it) it may not be.
WillieWard
1.8 / 5 (9) Mar 17, 2016
too dangerous to touch
Loser! Renewable failed to expand in Japan even with all fear-mongering tactics it was impossible to hide the truth: no one was killed by radiation while wind/solar is proven to cause more environmental damages and fatalities per gigawatt produced.
Nuclear is safe and ever safer.
gkam
2.3 / 5 (12) Mar 17, 2016
It even kills the radiation-shielded robots, Willie.

Even the robots.
gkam
2.2 / 5 (13) Mar 17, 2016
"Renewable failed to expand in Japan even with all fear-mongering tactics, . . "
-----------------------------------
http://fs-unep-ce...ent-2015

"China saw by far the biggest renewable energy investments in 2014 — a record $83.3 billion, up 39% from 2013. The US was second at $38.3 billion, up 7% on the year but well below its all-time high reached in 2011. Third came Japan, at $35.7 billion, 10% higher than in 2013 and its biggest total ever."

Got that, Willie/Stumpy?
Captain Stumpy
4.3 / 5 (12) Mar 17, 2016
Got that, Willie/Stumpy?
@liar-kam
1- why are you including me in your post?
i never claimed anything other than that Nuke was safer than you portray it and that you are fearmongering, you illiterate idiot!

i personally don't care one whit about the spread of renewable E in Japan or China unless it drops prices here in the US

at least you are learning how to actually link evidence now... too bad it also has NOTHING to do with the point i made because...

2- http://physics.ke...re15.pdf

if you're going to make an argument, beni-liar-kam, at least stick to a topic and make a point... don't start crossposting stupidity and dragging irrelevant information into it and then state it proves some random point you are making to someone else entirely

that is the mark of a delusional geriatric psychopath with a fragile ego off his meds, not a STEM trained engineer

ogg_ogg
5 / 5 (4) Mar 17, 2016
Dares:"...we no longer have to think about the dangers of storing radioactive waste long-term..." If he actually said that, and stands by it, then he is a nut-job (it's unclear to me what being a "spearhead" on a "team" qualifies him as an expert in.) I know of no scientifically validated way to accurately predict 10,000 years into the future of any type of (near surface) containment.
ogg_ogg
5 / 5 (2) Mar 17, 2016
Hey, Capt. Your link to the slides has a problem (imho): those same slides claim that sun output peaks in the yellow; but it peaks at 503nm which is orange, not yellow. So, this source is not to be trusted, fwiw.
ogg_ogg
5 / 5 (2) Mar 17, 2016
SORRY! GREEN. 503 nm is GREEN! Doh!
BruceVoigt
2.3 / 5 (6) Mar 17, 2016
High altitude aircraft are Killing our planet. Moderation or Choke. The cell earth continually releases toxins through its aura producing the dark matter or energy of outer space. Such things as melting permafrost, digging things up like oil and gas etc etc are hurrying things right along. Problem being that chemtrails are returning these poisons back to earth. We are having dead bugs, birds, bats and that's just a few bees!
JimHopf
5 / 5 (7) Mar 17, 2016
In response to some comments:

It's correct that this article did a poor job describing the benefits of Americium removal, and why people are pursuing it. Much, perhaps most, of the heat generation within the spent fuel that is to be loaded into waste repositories is due to Americium. In many cases, the capacity of a waste repository is limited by overall heat generation, as opposed to waste quantity or bulk.

Thus, removing the Americium could greatly increase repository capacities, perhaps eliminating the need for additional repositories. It does not appreciably reduce long-term toxicity, however, and there will always have to be at least one repository. Thus, it could be said that the benefits of this are somewhat modest. It could save the considerable political and economic cost of siting and building a 2nd repository, however.

It should be noted that nuclear waste disposal has never been that serious a technical problem. It has always mainly been a political problem.
gkam
1.4 / 5 (11) Mar 17, 2016
"It should be noted that nuclear waste disposal has never been that serious a technical problem. It has always mainly been a political problem."
--------------------------------------

Jim has the Magic Cure for radiation? What is it?
WillieWard
2 / 5 (5) Mar 17, 2016
Magic Cure for radiation
Radiation is the cure for cancer.
https://en.wikipe..._therapy
http://www.cancer...ct-sheet
Maybe it even can cure your "radiation-shielded robots"
Captain Stumpy
4.6 / 5 (10) Mar 18, 2016
Hey, Capt. Your link to the slides has a problem (imho): those same slides claim that sun output peaks in the yellow...fwiw.
@oog
well, that wasn't the purpose of the PDF i linked to beni-kam

in fact, i really wasn't even worried about anything except the first page which specifically proved her wrong about the safety of nuclear energy, which is why i stated to her
i never claimed anything other than that Nuke was safer than you portray
so... i will go over the PDF later and check that info

thanks
TheGhostofOtto1923
4.2 / 5 (5) Mar 19, 2016
Note that the americium doesn't get any less radioactive by this process.
Separating it out is good. It doesn't solve the waste problem
Americium 241, the most abundant isotope in waste, is used in smoke detectors. As a commodity it would not be considered waste.
Eikka
5 / 5 (4) Mar 20, 2016
Note that the americium doesn't get any less radioactive by this process.


Americum has a half-life of 432.2 years. It gets less radioactive a whole lot quicker than the uranium and plutonium, which would btw. be re-used as fuel.

The problem with having the Americum in the mix is that the decay products cause spontaneous chain-reactions in plutonium and uranium, which then decay and cause other reactions, which keeps the whole bunch of waste radioactive for a very long time since it's constantly "fizzling". By separating the Americum, the waste no longer behaves like a nuclear reactor on low heat, and instead of hundreds of thousands of years, the waste becomes more or less inert in a far shorter time.

That means wherever you put it, it won't have to remain secure for the next ice age. That makes the problem of disposal far easier and cheaper.
Eikka
5 / 5 (4) Mar 20, 2016
The point is simply that a mixture of high and low activity nuclear waste is worse than separating the two, because the high-activity waste decomposes and becomes safe fairly quickly, while the low-activity waste is already fairly safe because it doesn't radiate much (and is actually re-usable).

Keeping the two in mix gives you a pile of medium-activity stuff that's both deadly and long-lasting, that can't be recycled or re-used in any ways.
gkam
1 / 5 (7) Mar 20, 2016
"That means wherever you put it, it won't have to remain secure for the next ice age. That makes the problem of disposal far easier and cheaper."
-------------------------------------

Does that mean you will take care of it?

We still have yet to find ways to store this nasty, nasty stuff.
Zzzzzzzz
4.3 / 5 (6) Mar 20, 2016
Nuclear power must have a future if humans are to survive e the changing ecosphere. Anyone who claims to be an environmentalist and anti nuke power at the same time is either:
1. A Fool
2. Delusional (this is one of the most popular choices)
3. A Liar
4. Immensely Ignorant
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (4) Mar 20, 2016
Nuclear power must have a future if humans are to survive e the changing ecosphere. Anyone who claims to be an environmentalist and anti nuke power at the same time is either:
1. A Fool
2. Delusional (this is one of the most popular choices)
3. A Liar
4. Immensely Ignorant
Actually I'd go with 4 as the most popular. And I see little difference between 1 and 4. To my mind someone who makes claims about something they don't know much about is always a fool.

My approach to saving the ecosphere is "Everything that doesn't generate more carbon." And ignoring the fear-mongers is crucial.
gkam
1 / 5 (7) Mar 20, 2016
"Actually I'd go with 4 as the most popular. And I see little difference between 1 and 4. To my mind someone who makes claims about something they don't know much about is always a fool."
-----------------------------------------------
But not you, I'll bet!

Tell us how you are going to fix Hanford and Chernobyl and Fukushima.
WillieWard
2.3 / 5 (3) Mar 20, 2016
Tell us how you are going to fix ...
I used to be in doubt if this fear-monger is ignorant, dishonest or both. Now I'm sure he is both: ignorant & dishonest.
antialias_physorg
3.3 / 5 (7) Mar 20, 2016
Nuclear power must have a future if humans are to survive e the changing ecosphere. Anyone who claims to be an environmentalist and anti nuke power at the same time is either:
1. A Fool
2. Delusional (this is one of the most popular choices)
3. A Liar
4. Immensely Ignorant

Weirdly enough, countries like germany are quite a ways on the road towards becoming dependent on only renewables without any nuclear powerplants.

Nuclear is not an either/or choice when it comes to being CO2 neutral (much less so when it comes to being environmentally friendly).

Looking at how many companies can build nuclear powerplants and how many people are trained to run them they are a non-starter as a part of the solution in the timeframe we have - even if we tried to ramp up these factors to the max right now.
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (2) Mar 20, 2016
C'mon, antialias, you are better than this.

https://en.wikipe...in_China
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (3) Mar 20, 2016
Quick quote from the above linked Wikipedia article:

"As of December 2015, the People's Republic of China has 31 nuclear reactors operating with a capacity of 26.7 GW and 21 under construction with a capacity of 21.1 GW.[1][2][3] Additional reactors are planned, providing 58 GW of capacity by 2020."

Of course, China isn't part of the real world, is it? /snark
WillieWard
2 / 5 (4) Mar 20, 2016
Real world:
- Germany: due to nuclear phase-out, burning a lot of coal to compensate intermittency of the Eco-friendly bird-chopper/landscape-destroyers;
- China: the number-one producer in the world of wind/solar equipment, going nuclear to get reliable carbon-free baseload.
antialias_physorg
3.7 / 5 (6) Mar 20, 2016
Of course, China isn't part of the real world, is it? /snark

Sure it is. Do you have confidence in chinese built nuclear reactors ... or chinese type nuclear waste disposa?
It's a bit of an autocratic system. They can build all kinds of stuff - but most of it is crap (look at the building substance in cities for example). I'm glad they're building this stuff a long way off.

China also has the advantage that if something happens to a nuclear reactor they can just write off a few hundred square kilometers. No big deal (so can the US or Russia).
If something like that happens in Europ a sizeable portion of a country (and quite possibly a neighboring country too) will not be inhabitable.

In the end it's just replacing one kind of problematic waste with another. Why do it when you can have clean energy without waste?
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (2) Mar 20, 2016
Obviously they don't think they can do without it.
gkam
1 / 5 (6) Mar 20, 2016
True. It is an all-of-the-above plan for them, too.
EnricM
3 / 5 (4) Mar 21, 2016

Nuclear is safe and ever safer.


Glad to have found such a positieve minded individual. Now we can finally resolve nuclear waste problem.

When can we start depositing the barrels in your backyard ?
snerdguy
5 / 5 (2) Mar 21, 2016
The ability to be able to efficiently remove Americium from nuclear waste could go a long way toward making nuclear power more efficient while greatly reducing the volume of radioactive waste. The build up of this material is what causes fuel pellets to be rendered unusable even though only about ten percent of their fissionable material has been used. If this process is scalable, it would allow many tons of spent fuel rods to be reprocessed into usable fuel instead of just storing them in pools next to the power plants.
EnricM
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 21, 2016
Real world:
- Germany: due to nuclear phase-out, burning a lot of coal to compensate intermittency of the Eco-friendly bird-chopper/landscape-destroyers;
.


You aren familiar with Europe, am I right?

We just don have the space to allow for an exclusion zone if things go FUBAR.

And besides, there is the question of public opinion: Would you personally go and convince each and every German that Nukes are Cool? Or would you prefer the German government to impose their own criteria upon their voters?

No matter if nukes were purely wonderful and all good, if people don want them there is no way to impose them. It's like trying to make muslims eat pork or hindus eat cow. I bet they are ful of protein and goodness, but no matter how much you say "Bacon" they won't accept it.

;)
Eikka
4.4 / 5 (7) Mar 21, 2016
When can we start depositing the barrels in your backyard ?


You first. When can we start depositing the mountains of uranium and thorium waste by rare earths extraction, on your backyard? Or the mountains of silicon tetrachloride waste made from solar panels production in China? I bet they'd be happy to pay you to take it.

If something like that happens in Europ a sizeable portion of a country (and quite possibly a neighboring country too) will not be inhabitable.


That's a question of how much money you're willing to spend to clean it up and how severe the accident was. Even chernobyl could be cleaned and re-claimed if we just wanted to. Fukushima will be cleaned and re-habited.

Technically speaking, a chemicals processing plant too - like the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal in 1986 - can poison an entire country for hundreds of years just the same, and they're all around you, all over Europe. You just don't think about it.
Eikka
4.4 / 5 (7) Mar 21, 2016
Point being that people who worry about the risk of nuclear accident don't place the same care on all the other deadly things in like proportion. It's simply a double standard born out of hysteria.

The problem is twofold: exaggerated and irrational beliefs about what will actually happen or what is happening, and a dogged belief that nothing ever can be done about it. There's this fiction going around that when a nuclear accident happens it's going to be the end of the world, like that other fellow in another thread who believed that inhaling a "hot particle" means you're 100% condemned to cancer.

It's like watching a child who's been told that you can die of a wasp sting, getting hysterically paranoid and phobic of insects.
Eikka
4.2 / 5 (5) Mar 21, 2016
Heck, I get a leaflet every year that details what sort of air-horn signals to expect, and what to do and how to evacuate in case a nearby (15km) chemicals processing plant blows sky high. They test the horns every month just to remind people.

There's no exclusion zones around the plant, even though it could destroy the entire city and a good bit beyond in the worst case, by blast damage and by clouds of dioxins and other toxic stuff that can literally poison the ground beyond any use to the point that it would have to be scooped up and dumped in the deep ocean - so why aren't there people marching around with pickets demanding it to be shut down?

Because it isn't a nuclear powerplant. Nobody cares. People just accept the risk or don't think about it, and trust that the authorities are keeping it well in check and can manage the accident if it happens.

Why won't they extend the same to nuclear power?
gkam
1 / 5 (7) Mar 21, 2016
"It's like watching a child who's been told that you can die of a wasp sting, getting hysterically paranoid and phobic of insects."
-------------------------------------------

No, Eikka, it is more like Chernobyl Children.

Look them up.
gkam
1 / 5 (6) Mar 21, 2016
"There's no exclusion zones around the plant, even though it could destroy the entire city and a good bit beyond in the worst case, by blast damage and by clouds of dioxins and other toxic stuff that can literally poison the ground beyond any use to the point that it would have to be scooped up and dumped in the deep ocean - so why aren't there people marching around with pickets demanding it to be shut down?"
-------------------------------------

I guess the people of Bhopal are just trusting of the Carbide Plant.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.5 / 5 (8) Mar 21, 2016
Lazy lying psychopaths can't be bothered posting links to biased articles written by fellow loonies.

And besides, there is the question of public opinion: Would you personally go and convince each and every German that Nukes are Cool? Or would you prefer the German government to impose their own criteria upon their voters?
Euros will believe anything you tell them as long as you remind them of their superior intellects. They believe guns are bad and trump is evil. A few gens ago it was the jews. Now they believe in multiculturalism and eurabia.

The next gen will hate their parents as usual and love nukes. And there's nothing this gen can do about it.
gkam
1 / 5 (7) Mar 21, 2016
"Lazy lying psychopaths can't be bothered posting links to biased articles written by fellow loonies."
---------------------------------------------

That is just nonsense from an anonymous sniper. You have no education or experience in nukes, but keep on mouthing off.

The US nukes are dying. The ones in the midwest are old and now need to be subsidized by the consumers. They are also dangerous. The new ones cost us three to four times the price of power from wind or solar. We have found NO WAY to even store the waste, let alone really deal with it.

I suggest you do your part by volunteering to take some nuclear intensely-radioactive waste home with you.
Captain Stumpy
4.5 / 5 (8) Mar 21, 2016
You have no education or experience in nukes
@liar-kam
and apparently neither do you, because you keep ignoring it's proven safety record

sure, there have been accidents (Chernobyl, etc) but overall it is far safer than even your valued rooftop solar (as noted in the stat's i left for you)

so, are you going to argue to abolish airplanes because of the death toll from their accidents?
it is the exact same argument you are making about nukes!

air travel makes the news because when there is a major accident, the death toll is high...

however, over all, taking all numbers into consideration, it is far safer to fly than to drive because looking at the statistics proves millions of passengers fly safely every day

(this is the same problem you have with guns too)
you let your personal fear overwhelm your mouth and brain causing you to look like a complete fear-mongering moron

so stop your personal attacks & character assassination and post facts
TheGhostofOtto1923
5 / 5 (5) Mar 22, 2016
That is just nonsense from an anonymous sniper. You have no education or experience in nukes, but keep on mouthing off
You've proven that you don't but fail to see it because you think you're infallible and superior and all that.

Explain how you let your name, addy, phone #, ss#, family member names, etc get posted on the internet, in the presence of people who have already concluded that you are a lying cheating psychopath.

You meant to do it. Is that it?
gkam
1 / 5 (6) Mar 22, 2016
"air travel makes the news because when there is a major accident, the death toll is high."
----------------------------------

Please stop that sophomoric game. I got my opinion by working in the field, however briefly.
How did you get yours, . . wiki?
Captain Stumpy
4.3 / 5 (6) Mar 22, 2016
Please stop that sophomoric game
stop the character assassination, sniping and personal attacks, beni-liar-kam
I got my opinion by working in the field
i got my opinion from reading the safety statistics, studying the science and following the evidence
however briefly
i am STILL studying the statistics and following the evidence
How did you get yours
start here: http://www.energy.gov/

http://www.rita.d...bts/home

https://www.trans...ion.gov/

http://ocw.mit.ed...atistics

then you can take wiki and research the references (those are the blue text links that take you to things like "studies" which are based on "evidence" which actually validate claims and content)

so liar-kam, did you take statistics in your jebus masters program?

do you know what all those safety statistics mean?
(besides the obvious "you're wrong" part, anyway)
gkam
1 / 5 (6) Mar 22, 2016
"do you know what all those safety statistics mean?"
---------------------------------------

Do you know what "Chernobyl Children" means?
Captain Stumpy
4.3 / 5 (6) Mar 22, 2016
Do you know what "Chernobyl Children" means?
@liar-kam

so that is a resounding NO then?

thanks for proving you don't know what statistics are and can't seem to learn to read!

should i post those safety stat's again?

TheGhostofOtto1923
4.3 / 5 (6) Mar 24, 2016
Please stop that sophomoric game. I got my opinion by working in the field, however briefly
Ah. So a fed ex guy delivers packages to a reactor facility and tells the guys down at the bar that he knows it's unsafe because it smells funny and he's got a rash now.

That's the kind of insight you have. Everybody here understands this but you.

That's why you're dumb enough to throw personal info around, and make up stuff as you see fit, and still think you're perceived as a hero of some sort.
https://youtu.be/t-wUe5aEwHM
gkam
1 / 5 (6) Mar 24, 2016
No, I'm just real.

And you will be too.
Captain Stumpy
4.3 / 5 (6) Mar 27, 2016
Do you know what "Chernobyl Children" means?
hey LIAR-kam
if you want to talk about the dangers of nuclear radiation, it pays to actually do some research and learn something

perhaps you should watch this video
https://www.youtu...yv9arXqU

https://www.youtu...Oc3ytqaw

https://www.youtu...Zm8XO7Zc

and yes, i am mocking you and your so-called experience while you intentionally spread fear and stupidity WRT nuke stuff and blatantly lying about it's safety
WillieWard
3 / 5 (2) Mar 27, 2016
Now gskam can feel safer, no fear of fallout, because he can wear his own radiation shielding, a tin foil hat, like his friends.
http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-QkJqwgIcs8E/VXpSL6dxr0I/AAAAAAAAApY/XF2EeKWxvJs/s1600/Tin%2Bfoil%2BtHANKS%2BTO%2BTHE%2BgREENS%2BIM%2Bsafe.jpg
http://orig07.dev...izal.png
gkam
1 / 5 (6) Mar 27, 2016
trumpy, you got fooled, suckered, taken like a goober by those two draft-dodging cowards screaming "Bring 'em on!" from their Undisclosed Locations and bunkers. Then, you learned your lesson.

But now, you have gone nuts with your abuse of others, indicating some kind of personal breakdown. Don't worry, there is help for you.

I am helping.
Estevan57
4.3 / 5 (6) Mar 27, 2016
Gkam - "trumpy, you got fooled, suckered, taken like a goober by those two draft-dodging cowards screaming "Bring 'em on!" from their Undisclosed Locations and bunkers. Then, you learned your lesson."

Dude, you are just batshit crazy. I will fix the rest of the quote for you.-

"But now, I have gone nuts with my abuse of others, indicating some kind of personal breakdown. Don't worry, there is help for me." - gkam

"I need help." - gkam

There - there now, take a Midol and calm down.

Captain Stumpy
4.3 / 5 (6) Mar 27, 2016
I am helping
how is your dissemination of blatantly false lies, misinformation and easily countered false claims & data helping?

who are you helping anyway?
the electric universe?
the religious fundies?
pseudoscience?

because that is what you post - pseudoscience

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