University of Manchester scientists have proposed a new treatment technology to reduce the UK’s nuclear waste burden.
According to the university’s press release, Dr Tatiana Grebennikova, Dr Clint Sharrad and Professor Abbie Jones have found a novel and non-destructive method of removing radioactivity from nuclear graphite waste and downgrading it from the category of ‘higher activity waste’ to that of a much lower level.
According to the scientists, this breakthrough could significantly speed up disposal of such material and reduce the overall cost of dealing with the country’s nuclear waste.
Managing radioactive graphite waste is one of the major challenges of nuclear power plant decommissioning throughout the world.
More than 300,000 tonnes of nuclear graphite waste worldwide, and around 100,000 tonnes in the UK, await disposal in a Geological Disposal Facility that is yet to be built.
The treatment developed by the Manchester team uses electrolysis to drive the removal of radioactive species from irradiated nuclear graphite into a molten salt medium.
According to the scientists, molten salts have a wide electrochemical window, which means we can readily access electric potentials that can better force the removal of these nuclear graphite isotopes.
With the help of this method, the scientists were able to reduce the radioactivity of UK Magnox grade graphite so that reclassification of the graphite from Intermediate Level Waste to Low Level Waste is possible, making it far easier and cheaper to dispose of.
Talking about this novel treatment technology, Jones said they have submitted an international patent with the university on this technology and are planning follow-on research to determine if they can decontaminate nuclear graphite to levels even further than observed thus far.
“If we are successful in industrializing this technology, it could lead to up to $1.3 billion in savings for the UK taxpayer by reducing disposal costs for current graphite legacy wastes, as well as improved sustainability of advanced reactor technology where graphite will be deployed again,” adds Sharrad.
“The nuclear sector as a whole is already exploring and developing innovative technologies to decommission legacy facilities quickly and safely.”
“Our work shows how innovation can be successfully achieved by possessing a willingness to work across disciplines and research areas.”
Image and content: University of Manchester