Scientific challenges and opportunities for remediating radioactive waste

April 10, 2018, Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory
Scientific challenges and opportunities for remediating radioactive waste
Understanding scientific complexities of radioactive waste stored in underground tanks at the Hanford Site could guide cleanup efforts. Credit: Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory

One of the nation's enduring scientific challenges has been to find effective ways of remediating millions of gallons of chemical and radioactive waste remaining from Cold War activities. Now a team of experts has combed through more than 100 studies to determine what is known of the complex chemical and rheological aspects of the waste and identify scientific issues that must be resolved to finally reach the end goal of cleanup.

Scientists and engineers have worked decades to find solutions, particularly for chemical and in underground storage tanks at the Hanford Site in southeast Washington state. While the origins of the waste have been well documented, tank-to-tank transfers, mixing, and previous remediation attempts have complicated the chemistry and physics of the material. A thorough understanding of underlying scientific issues provides a stronger foundation for engineering solutions, giving decision makers more confidence to move forward with fewer delays.

Scientists from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, cleanup contractor Washington River Protection Solutions, and Washington State University scoured scientific literature to identify research that has informed current understanding of tank waste. Much has been accomplished, including beginning the construction of a vitrification plant to solidify this waste for safe storage. Perhaps the greatest remaining challenge is to develop the scientific underpinnings of the complex particle interactions that will occur when waste is removed from the tanks and pumped through pipes for further treatment and vitrification.

Previous work at EMSL, the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory, a U.S. Department of Energy user facility, helped develop an empirical model of the materials inside the tanks, but more work is needed to predict how the will behave during processing. Recent advances in aberration-corrected , in situ microscopy, and theoretical modeling across scales show promise. Information from such studies, coupled with the ability to transport radioactive materials to EMSL and use its , could allow scientists to build robust predictive physics-based models to inform and guide cleanup efforts.

Explore further: Nuke waste debate: Turn it into glass or encase in cement?

More information: Reid A. Peterson et al. Review of the Scientific Understanding of Radioactive Waste at the U.S. DOE Hanford Site, Environmental Science & Technology (2017). DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.7b04077

Related Stories

Nuke waste debate: Turn it into glass or encase in cement?

May 4, 2017

Congress should consider authorizing the U.S. Department of Energy to study encasing much of the nuclear waste at the nation's largest waste repository in a cement-like mixture instead of turning it into glass logs, according ...

Leak brings safety of Hanford nuclear site into question

August 22, 2012

As part of the biggest, costliest environmental cleanup in the nation's history-disposing of 53 million gallons of radioactive waste at the Hanford nuclear reservation in Washington state-one thing was supposed to be sure: ...

Recommended for you

Permanent, wireless self-charging system using NIR band

October 8, 2018

As wearable devices are emerging, there are numerous studies on wireless charging systems. Here, a KAIST research team has developed a permanent, wireless self-charging platform for low-power wearable electronics by converting ...

Facebook launches AI video-calling device 'Portal'

October 8, 2018

Facebook on Monday launched a range of AI-powered video-calling devices, a strategic revolution for the social network giant which is aiming for a slice of the smart speaker market that is currently dominated by Amazon and ...

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.