Development of Novel Treatments for Carbon-based radioactive wastes

Lead Research Organisation: University of Strathclyde
Department Name: Civil and Environmental Engineering

Abstract

The nuclear energy and weapons programmes of the past 70 years have created a legacy of waste and contamination around the world. Amongst the very diverse and complicated wastes arising from these programmes are a range of "orphan" wastes. These are wastes which are not suitable for treatment in existing processing plants and for which there is no currently accepted treatment option.

This project will determine the feasibility of a wholly new approach to treatment of orphan radioactive wastes. The overarching longer-term research vision is for a three-stage waste treatment process. First, smouldering the waste (in the same way that coal smoulders in a fire) to burn the carbon and produce a small volume of stable radioactive ash that can be encapsulated (generally in cement) and placed into a container (comprised of steel or concrete) for future geological disposal. Second, capturing safely the radioactive emissions that are released by the smouldering process. These are in the form of microscopic particles of radionuclides and carbon dioxide gas that contains the radioactive element, Carbon 14. This capture will make use of similar technologies to those being explored to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to tackle climate change. Bacteria will be used to stimulate the production of carbonate and/or phosphate minerals, removing the radioactivity from the gases and capturing them into a stable mineral (i.e. into a rock) . Finally, this process of capturing the radioactivity into a mineral will be performed as part of the encapsulation process either for the radioactive ash (prior to placing it in a container) or for other radioactive wastes, so as to reduce the final volume of radioactive material that requires disposal.

In order for any treatment process of orphan wastes to be accepted by the UK regulatory authorities, it is critical that no radioactive gases are emitted. Hence, this research project will focus on demonstrating the feasibility of capturing (1) 14C as a stable carbonate and (2) other particulate radioactive emissions into stable phosphate minerals. The project will focus on demonstrating feasibility for a single wasteform, graphite, which is the largest volume orphan waste. If feasibility can be demonstrated, other research projects will follow to explore the smouldering process and the use of the carbonate and phosphate minerals for encapsulation of the radioactive ashes, created by the smouldering process.

Planned Impact

Impact of this research will be ensured through the University of Strathclyde's, Advanced Nuclear Research Centre (ANRC). The ANRC is funded with support from industry and provides a pipe-line to take technologies developed through fundamental laboratory research, through pilot-scale testing and into the workplace. Current industry members of ANRC each commit funding to supporting this pipe-line, and include EDF, Babcock International, Bruce Power and the National Nuclear Laboratories.

Results will be reported regularly via ANRC technological board meetings, as well as within nuclear industry magazines and at industrially-led technical meetings within and outside the UK. If successful, the research will open the door to thermal treatment of orphan wastes. Not only will this benefit the UK public, in terms of reduced hazard on nuclear sites, it also has the potential to be an exportable treatment technology that can benefit the UK economy.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description We can successfully remove CO2 from a gas stream through precipitation by bacteria as calcite
Exploitation Route The findings form part of this feasibility study to develop a new technology for graphite treatment. We have successfully obtained a small amount of follow on funding from industry partners in the University's Advanced Nuclear Research Centre. In particular, Industry partners Cavendish are very interested in developing this further.
Sectors Energy,Environment

 
Description ANC Prosperity Partnership
Amount £72,937 (GBP)
Organisation University of Strathclyde 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2020 
End 06/2020
 
Description Cavendish Nuclear Industry Collaboration 
Organisation Cavendish Nuclear
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Periodic meetings and reports with updates on data gathered and project direction.
Collaborator Contribution Feedback at meetings providing advice and expertise on project research areas which could generate meaningful impact at the industry level.
Impact This is a multi-disciplinary collaboration resulting in shared information in science, engineering and policy.
Start Year 2017
 
Description ANRC Showcase 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Poster presentation at the University of Strathclyde's Advanced Nuclear Research Centre showcase meeting which demonstrated nuclear-related research being undertaken at the university. Several attendees had questions and showed a specific interest in the impact this project could have.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description ANRC Showcase 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Oral and poster presentations at the University of Strathclyde's Advanced Nuclear Research Centre (ANRC) Showcase meeting in Toronto Canada. Stakeholders in industry and policy attended and engaged in discussions over the potential impacts of this research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Glasgow Explorathon 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Kieran Tierney demonstrated at the Glasgow Explorathon 2017 (part of the European Researchers Night) with research scientists from other institutes to engage the public on isotope chemistry. Kieran's role was to discuss radioactivity and radionuclides such as radiocarbon via interactive games and posters which drew in many of the hundreds of attendees.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Goldschmidt Conference 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Poster presentation showcasing work completed at the time and intended future research. Many people viewed the poster, asked questions about the research and engaged in discussions about the future research planned.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description RSC Symposium Glasgow 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Kieran Tierney provided an overview of the project at the RSC's Scottish Analytical Division symposium on Analytical and Environmental Chemistry at the University of Glasgow which resulted in a general discussion with several interested attendees.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018