SciTechDaily reports on recent advances announced by a team at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory. Apparently, this team “printed 3D parts capable of paving the way to recycling up to 97 percent of the waste produced by nuclear reactors.”
As Argonne Nuclear Chemist Andrew Breshears explains: “this additional step may reduce the length of storage almost one thousandfold.” Traditionally, recycling nuclear reactor waste can be done in several ways. One of these ways was, in fact, developed by Argonne scientists all the way back in the 1970s. “With these approaches, nuclear engineers can recycle 95 percent of the spent nuclear fuel from a reactor, leaving only five percent to be stored as long-term waste. But now, for the first time, Argonne scientists have printed 3D parts capable of recycling even more nuclear waste.”
First, the team separated “the highly radioactive actinide isotopes – americium and curium – from the lanthanides, or rare earth metals, which, for the most part, are not radioactive.” Then the team redesigned the Actinide Lanthanide Separation Process (ALSEP), which was developed back in 2013, “around centrifugal contactors.” This sped up the process.
“By following a 36-step separation blueprint, the scientists removed 99.9 percent of the actinides from the lanthanides. This was a striking feat because both sets of elements share similar chemistry.”
“Along the way, the scientists found two additional benefits of using 3D-printed parts. The first is the contactors offered inherent safeguards against nuclear proliferation. The tubes connecting the 20 contactors run inside each device, making it more difficult to divert plutonium or other radioactive material from the process.” Secondly, 3D printed parts are far more flexible. As the team explains: “if a part did fail, it would be easy to reprint and replace. We could easily add or remove steps.”
This is, of course, a step in the right direction. But more research, as always, is needed.
Image and Quotes Courtesy of SciTechDaily