Indian scientist designs method to reduce radioactive waste

London, Nov 28 ( Nuclear power could meet all our energy needs but leaves dangerous radioactive waste. Now, a team led by an Indian scientist has developed a new method to reduce the amount of this waste considerably.

The disposal of the old core rods and also reactor operation results in a large amount of low-level waste, especially contaminated cooling water.

S. Narasimhan from the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in Kalpakkam, India working with P.D. Brje Sellergren, a chemist from the Institute of Environmental Research Technische Universitt, Dortmund in Germany, developed the method.

His approach: small beads consisting of a special polymer which ‘fishes’ the radioactivity out of the water.

Usually radioactive water is cleaned with ion exchangers. But this technique has a crucial disadvantage, because it doesn’t differentiate between non-radioactive iron-ions and radioactive cobalt-ions.

Sellergren and Narasimhan were looking for a material which binds cobalt and not iron. They developed a special polymer which is made through a procedure called “molecular imprinting”.

This polymer is made in an environment containing cobalt. Then the cobalt-ions are extracted with hydrochloric acid, meaning that they are virtually “washed out”.

The resulting cobalt-sized holes — the imprinting — are able to trap cobalt, and just cobalt, in other environments. The result: a small amount of this polymer can mop up a large amount of radioactive isotopes.

The team is now forming the polymer into small beads that can pass through the cooling system of a nuclear-power station, says a release of the Institute of Environmental Research.

They expect that it would be more economical and environment-friendly to concentrate radioactivity into such beads than to dispose off large amounts of low-level waste.

There obviously is a demand. Some 40 new nuclear-power stations are being built around the world. And the International Atomic Energy Agency estimates that a further 70 will be built in the next 15 years.