Nuclear fuel recycling and waste reduction could potentially be better achieved with the help of a new material that will capture certain gasses released during reprocessing. Presently, this procedure requires considerable amounts of energy as the current technology needs to operate at very low temperatures. The new material does not have the temperature requirement, substantially decreasing the costs to make reprocessing cleaner. In addition, not having the need for very low temperatures could make the new material available on commercial markets.
The material in question is being created by exploring the characteristics of materials known as metal-organic frameworks. It was designed with the aid of computer modeling.
With the new material, it is believed that Uranium and Plutonium, the two most commonly used nuclear fuels could be recycled.
Presently, one of the most important steps in recycling nuclear fuel is the collection of radioactive gasses which are emitted during nuclear fuel reprocessing. The collection of Xenon and Krypton, the aforementioned radioactive gasses, requires complex cryogenic procedures.
The cryogenic methods lower the temperatures to such a degree that the gases become solids. It is in this extremely low temperature that the now solid radioactive materials are collected. Each individual process that is part of this procedure is costly as well as energy intensive, reducing the energy output of the nuclear fuels in the first place by a substantial portion.
Metal-organic frameworks, or MOFs, are believed to have the ability to trap the Xenon and the Krypton at an ambient temperature. It is the MOFs that scientists intend to use as the cornerstones for the new material.
The biggest challenge in creating the new material lies in having to test the prototypes regularly out. While MOFs have the ability to trap the radioactive gases and hold them, that is still a molecular-scale occurrence. Different MOFs need to be designed, created, tested, and each of these processes needs to be thorough.
As of now, scientists involved in the project believe that they have found the adequate MOF for the Xenon radioactive gas. They have named it SBMOF-1, at least for now.
SBMOF-1 was initially believed to be able to trap xenon at a temperature of 300 degrees Celsius, but that proved to be too high. Further testing then revealed that 100 degrees Celsius (the boiling temperature of water) was all that was needed to enable SBMOF-1 to trap the Xenon radioactive molecules safely.
Once the other metal-organic framework is found, the new materials will go through rigorous safety tests. The research team, however, is more than convinced that the material will perform adequately. After being added to the commercial market, nuclear fuel could probably become the cleanest and safest of all fuels.
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