Immobilising Radioactive waste by converting it into Glass

Nuclear fuel is increasingly used and at this backdrop, it becomes crucial adopt measures for safe disposal of nuclear waste. Nuclear waste also known as radioactive waste possesses immense capabilities to cause a serious threat to nature and thereby, humankind. Thereby, immobilising such waste is one primary technique to solve the issue. 

In southeastern Washington, the nuclear site has processed around 56 million gallons of radioactive waste alone. Which is enough to fill more than 1 million bathtubs. If the level of nuclear waste in one site is such huge quantity, the possible quantity of nuclear waste from all over the world is alarming.

The scientists have found a solution in immobilising the nuclear waste, thereby curbing its ability to cause harm to the environment. The researchers have found a way to turn the waste into glass.

Ashutosh Goel, a Rutgers researcher and inventor of the new method, stated, “Glass is a perfect material for immobilizing the radioactive wastes with excellent chemical durability.”

In fact, turning radioactive waste into a glass is not completely a new concept.

The process of turning waste into a glass is referred to as vitrification. It involves melting of the radioactive waste together with glass. This further form compounds in a cylindrical container which also serves as its storage container. The result is the glass that is durable and non- leaching. This process is the most integral part of the initial treatment and management of high-level waste.

Goel has discovered a way to immobilise radioactive iodine-129 into ceramics at room temperature. Iodine-129, which has a half-life of 15.7 million years, is highly dangerous that it can target the thyroid gland and can increase the chances of getting cancer. Other vitrification methods, like Geomelt, processes the wastes with temperatures ranging from 1,300 to 2,000 °C.

Continued research might lead to better and safe ways of disposing of nuclear fuels. Nuclear fuel rods constitute Uranium pellets that emit intense radiation and heat. At present, there are two methods that the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission gives acceptance for containing them: storing them in pools or storing them in concrete caskets within a nuclear facility.

There are execution problems involved with storing it in pools. The only permanent solution so far is found only in storing the waste in either in the form of glass or ceramics.

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Shobith MAKAM Written by: