Student's surprise finding could improve future handling of nuclear waste

Student's surprise finding could improve future handling of nuclear waste
Credit: University of Manchester

A researcher at The University of Manchester has made a surprise finding after observing variations of a chemical bond with a radioactive metal called thorium – and this newly revealed relationship could one day contribute to improving nuclear fuel management.

Elizabeth Wildman, a PhD student in the research group led by Professor Steve Liddle, has reported compounds where unusual forms of phosphorus - known as the Devil's element - are stabilised by thorium, a radioactive chemical element named after the Norse god of thunder which can be used as a nuclear fuel in the nuclear power industry.

"This has been an exciting experience and I am delighted my work has been recognised in this way," said Elizabeth Wildman. "It seems the Norse god of thunder has tamed the Devil's element."

This latest study from Professor Liddle's research group looked at how 'soft' elements such as phosphorus can interact with thorium in unusual bonding environments.

The research looked at species with single and double thorium-phosphorus bonds, and even managed to trap moieties as fundamental as PH and a naked P atom between two thorium ions.

"Nuclear power could provide energy security for the UK and produce far less carbon dioxide than fossil fuels, but the waste it produces is potentially very dangerous if not handled properly" said Professor Steve Liddle, Co-Director of the Centre for Radiochemistry Research at The University of Manchester. "In order to find ways of reducing the volume of nuclear waste and recycle unspent fuel, research has focussed on developing our understanding of how radioactive actinide elements interact with elements from around the periodic table that they could come into contact with in the fuel cycle."

"We have a long way to go before we have a fully developed framework of understanding of the bonding of these elements, but the surprising findings of this study contribute to building that understanding."

The work was carried out as part of a collaborative research project between the universities of Manchester and Regensburg, and was funded and supported by the Royal Society, European Research Council, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, and European Cooperation in Science and Technology.

The research has been published in the leading multi-disciplinary journal Nature Communications in an article entitled 'Thorium Phosphorus Triamidoamine Complexes Containing Th-P Single and Multiple Bond Interactions'.


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More information: Thorium–phosphorus triamidoamine complexes containing Th–P single- and multiple-bond interactions Nature Communications. DOI: 10.1038/ncomms12884
Journal information: Nature Communications

Citation: Student's surprise finding could improve future handling of nuclear waste (2016, September 29) retrieved 22 August 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2016-09-student-future-nuclear.html
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Sep 29, 2016
Currently there are no thorium powered generation facilities. There are no plans for them. None of the various mechanisms proposed have passed muster as either safe or practicable. At best the first thorium powered generation is at least a decade away and will require as many subsidies as the current radioactive tea kettles.

Now put half the money being wasted on research into fission and fusion generation into renewable sources, distributed generation and, if needed, battery storage then reliable, non-polluting generation can fill need within 5 years.

Sep 29, 2016
Now put half the money being wasted on research into fission and fusion generation into renewable sources, distributed generation and, if needed, battery storage then reliable, non-polluting generation can fill need within 5 years.


If -all- the nuclear and fusion research, including medical, security and weapons research funds would be put to renewable energy, it would realistically only pay the current energy subsidies being handed out around the world. It wouldn't even begin to pay for the massive cost of energy storage, which is the crucial point in the ability to expand renewable energy production any further.

The US for example spends somewhere in the ballpark of $20 billion a year just buying power from renewable producers, in the form of subsidies. Germany is similiar.


Oct 01, 2016
Radioactive elements have save MILLIONS of lives thanks to their use in medicine. Reducing reactor numbers because of crackpot, misguided ideology is a threat, not a good thing.

Oct 01, 2016
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Oct 01, 2016
What is this story about? Why does it matter that phosphorous is also called "the devil's element"? Why does it matter about Thor or what she thinks about Thor?

What did she do that matters? I get that she made some bonds, but the abstract does not say (does not say in complete and total absence of data) what it could/would/might be used for? What a story! If there's good science here, how would one know?

Oct 01, 2016
In this article they essentially admit our inability to store this disgustingly nasty stuff.

They want to believe it is a "political" problem, but politics cannot change the reality of science. This entire nuclear boondoggle was a Faustian Bargain, and now we have sold our souls and made the Material of the Devil, named for the God of the Underworld, Pluto.

Oct 01, 2016
This isn't interesting because it "reduces CO2 emissions"

Its interesting because its better

Oct 01, 2016
Hi rrander. :)
Radioactive elements have save MILLIONS of lives thanks to their use in medicine. Reducing reactor numbers because of crackpot, misguided ideology is a threat, not a good thing.
The same radiotherapy materials can already be produced by simpler, cheaper, cleaner and safer methods, such as Accelerators; and increasingly, by other equally simpler, cheaper, safer, cleaner methods being invented as we speak; eg, please see:

http://phys.org/n...tml#nRlv

Cheers! :)

Oct 01, 2016
Hi loneislander. :)
What is this story about?...What did she do that matters?...
The only purpose and thrust of this research was about gaining knowledge about how the nuclear waste products in storage situations may react or bind with other ambient geological/hydrological minerals/elements/compounds. The idea is that more knowledge in that area may be useful in predicting/ameliorating the possible dangers from stored nuclear waste getting into the environment; and especially bonding into more dangerous 'boological/permeative' forms which may be taken up even quicker/readily by biological systems (much like better knowledge of Mercury 'methylation etc' in certain environments; ie more dangerous forms/compounds of Mercury that biological systems more readily take up/concentrate up the food chain, etc etc).

Her research/knowledge re stored nuclear waste interaction with environmental materials/biologicals will be helpful in better understanding the fuller dangers. :)

Oct 02, 2016
They want to believe it is a "political" problem, but politics cannot change the reality of science. This entire nuclear boondoggle was a Faustian Bargain, and now we have sold our souls and made the Material of the Devil, named for the God of the Underworld, Pluto
Hard to fit all that on a t shirt. As far as ungodly evil creations go, psychopaths top the list I think.

Without them we wouldn't have to fear nearly as much about such concentrated forms of energy.

The demons walk among us george. People of the future will look back and see a dark age of mental sickness and wonder how we could have been so naive, so tolerant.

This is all before they figured out how to engineer you guys out of existence mind you.

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