Thursday, November 3, 2016
Better Storage of Radioactive Waste
Can Radioactive Waste be Immobilized
in Glass for Millions of Years?
By Todd B. Bates,
, November 3,
2016 -- How do you handle nuclear waste that will be radioactive for millions
of years, keeping it from harming people and the environment? Rutgers
It isn’t easy, but
researcher Ashutosh Goel has discovered ways to immobilize such waste – the
offshoot of decades of nuclear weapons production – in glass and ceramics.
Goel, an assistant professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, is the primary inventor of a new method to immobilize radioactive iodine in ceramics at room temperature. He’s also the principal investigator (PI) or co-PI for six glass-related research projects totaling $6.34 million in federal and private funding, with $3.335 million going to
“Glass is a perfect material for immobilizing the radioactive wastes with excellent chemical durability,” said Goel, who works in the
. Developing ways to
immobilize iodine-129, which is especially troublesome, is crucial for its safe
storage and disposal in underground geological formations. School of Engineering
The half-life of iodine-129 is 15.7 million years, and it can disperse rapidly in air and water, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. If it’s released into the environment, iodine will linger for millions of years. Iodine targets the thyroid gland and can increase the chances of getting cancer.
Among Goel’s major funders is the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), which oversees one of the world’s largest nuclear cleanups following 45 years of producing nuclear weapons. The national weapons complex once had 16 major facilities that covered vast swaths of
Nevada, South Carolina,
Tennessee and state, according to the DOE. Washington
The agency says the
site in southeastern Washington, which
manufactured more than 20 million pieces of uranium metal fuel for nine nuclear
reactors near the Columbia River, is its
biggest cleanup challenge.
cleanup mission commenced in 1989, and construction of a waste treatment plant
for the liquid radioactive waste in tanks was launched a decade later and is
more than three-fifths finished. Hanford
“What we’re talking about here is highly complex, multicomponent radioactive waste which contains almost everything in the periodic table,” Goel said. “What we’re focusing on is underground and has to be immobilized.”
Goel, a native of Punjab state in northern
India, earned a doctorate in glasses and
glass-ceramics from the University of Aveiro in in 2009 and was a
postdoctoral researcher there. He worked as a “glass scientist” at the Pacific
Northwest National Laboratory in 2011 and 2012, and then as a senior scientist
at Sterlite Technologies Ltd. in India before joining the Rutgers faculty in
January 2014. Portugal
The six projects he’s leading or co-leading are funded by the DOE Office of River Protection, National Science Foundation and Corning Inc., with collaborators from
and Pacific Northwest National
Laboratory. University of North Texas
One of his inventions involves mass producing chemically durable apatite minerals, or glasses, to immobilize iodine without using high temperatures. A second innovation deploys synthesizing apatite minerals from silver iodide particles. He’s also studying how to immobilize sodium and alumina in high-level radioactive waste in borosilicate glasses that resist crystallization.
site, creating glass with radioactive waste is expected to start in around 2022
or 2023, Goel said, and “the implications of our research will be much more
visible by that time.” Hanford
The research may eventually help lead to ways to safely dispose of highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel that is stored now at commercial nuclear power plants.
“It depends on its composition, how complex it is and what it contains,” Goel said. “If we know the chemical composition of the nuclear waste coming out from those plants, we can definitely work on it.”