Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a new technology that uses shockwaves to remove radioactive contaminants from nuclear reactor wastewater,media New Atlas reported. The process, known as shock electrodialysis, separates wastewater from the plant’s coolant system for treatment while water can be recycled rather than replaced.
When we think of the disposal of nuclear waste, we tend to think of large items, such as spent nuclear fuel or radioactive components in abandoned reactors. However, there is also daily waste, which is the result of a small amount of pollutants entering the water system, which cools the reactor and converts its heat into available energy. The problem is how to remove these pollutants in a safe and cost-effective manner without affecting the operation of the reactor or the need for expensive water replacement operations.
To achieve this, the MIT team has been experimenting with shock electrodialysis. Originally developed for desalination, the process uses deionizing shock waves in pipes to push charged ions into a charged porous material that acts as a lining for tubes. As a result, if the ions are composed of the desired to-treat elements, ions can be selectively filtered out of the coolant flow, which is 10 million cubic meters of water per year for large reactors.
To date, the technology has been used to remove 99.5 per cent of radioactive cobalt and radon from simulated wastewater, which also contains boric acid and lithium, which have been left behind. This means that up to two-thirds of the water can be recycled. The process is also scalable. MIT researchers say it can be used not only to clean reactor cooling systems, but also for large-scale applications such as removing lead from drinking water.
In addition to routine cleaning operations, the technology could also be used to deal with catastrophic situations, such as those faced at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the researchers said.
The research paper was recently published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. The paper was co-authored by Martin Bazant, professor of chemical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Mohammad Alkhadra Huanhuan Tian, a graduate student, and postdoctoral students Kameron Conforti and Tao Gao.