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Turning Nuclear Waste into Glass

Researchers in the United Kingdom claim to have found a way to reduce the volume of nuclear waste by up to 90% by turning it into glass.

According to researchers from the University of Sheffield's engineering department, it is possible to turn nuclear waste into glass through the process of vitrifying plutonium-contaminated waste and blending it with blast-furnace slag.

The process could potentially reduce the amount of nuclear waste by 85-90% and lead to lower storage and disposal costs.

The research is still in its early stages and has not yet been tested on actual plutonium-contaminated waste. For the time being, the engineers are using cerium, which is similar to plutonium, to further develop the technique for full-scale demonstration. 

Using three parts cerium and one part blast furnace slag combined and heated to over 1500°C, and then cooled at room temperature, the researchers created a durable black silicate glass that can be stored more safely than the current method of encapsulating it in cement.

If the idea is successfully developed, it would considerably reduce the costs related to nuclear waste disposal and the potential risk of contamination. 

Over  200,000 cubic meters of radioactive nuclear waste is generated globally every year.

"If we can reduce the volume of waste that eventually needs to be stored and buried underground, we can reduce the costs considerably. At the same time, our process can stabilize the plutonium in a more corrosion resistant material, so this should improve the safety case and public acceptability of geological disposal," Sheffield professor Neil Hyatt was quoted as saying.

In the UK, the overall volume of plutonium-contaminated waste from operations and decommissioning is around 31,000 cubic meters—or enough to fill the Big Ben clock tower seven times. According to Hyatt, the vitrification process could reduce that waste to a volume that would fill only on Big Ben tower.

They project heads are also discussing how the process could be used to help clean up after the Fukushima disaster in Japan in 2011.

It’s not a new idea, but large-scale development hasn’t gotten off the ground. The US government as toyed with it for disposing surplus weapons-usable plutonium.

By. Charles Kennedy of Oilprice.com



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