But after several thousand years, those barrels will naturally begin to disintegrate due to corrosion. A team of scientists at Argonne National Lab (ANL) in Argonne, Ill., has determined what may happen to this toxic waste once its container disappears.
"We want to be sure that nuclides (like plutonium) stay where we put them," says Moritz Schmidt, an ANL post-doctoral researcher who will present his team's work at the AVS Symposium in Nashville, Tenn., held Oct. 30 – Nov. 4. Understanding how these radioactive molecules behave is "the only way we can make educated decisions about what is a sufficient nuclear waste repository and what is not," he adds.
Plutonium, with its half-life of 24 thousand years, is notoriously difficult to work with, and the result is that very little is known about the element's chemistry. Few labs around the world are equipped to handle its high radioactivity and toxicity, and its extremely complicated behavior around water makes modeling plutonium systems a formidable task.
Plutonium's extraordinary chemistry in water also means scientists cannot directly equate it with similar elements to tell them how plutonium will behave in the environment. Other ions tend to stick to the surface of clay as individual atoms. Plutonium, on the other hand, bunches into nanometer-sized clusters in water, and almost nothing is known about how these clusters interact with clay surfaces.
To better understand how this toxic substance might respond to its environment, the Argonne team examined the interactions between plutonium ions dissolved in water and a mineral called muscovite. This mineral is structurally similar to clay, which is often considered for use in waste repository sites around the world due to its strong affinity for plutonium. Using a range of X-ray scattering techniques, the scientists reconstructed images of thin layers of plutonium molecules sitting on the surface of a slab of muscovite.
What they found was "very interesting," Schmidt says. The Argonne scientists discovered that plutonium clusters adhere much more strongly to mineral surfaces than individual plutonium ions would be expected to. The result of this strong adherence is that plutonium tends to become trapped on the surface of the clay, a process which could help contain the spread of plutonium into the environment.
"In this respect, it's a rather positive effect" that his group has observed, Schmidt says; but, he adds, "it's hard to make a very general statement" about whether this would alter the rate of plutonium leaking out of its repository thousands of years from now.
Schmidt cautions that these are fundamental studies and probably will not have an immediate impact on the design of plutonium-containing structures; however, he stresses that this work shows the importance of studying plutonium's surface reactivity at a molecular level, with potential future benefits for nuclear waste containment strategies.
"This is a field that is only just emerging," Schmidt says.
The AVS 58th International Symposium & Exhibition will be held Oct. 30 – Nov. 4 at the Nashville Convention Center.
Presentation AC+TF-ThA-1, "Plutonium Sorption and Reactivity at the Solid/Water Interface," is at 2 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 3.
Main meeting website: http://www2.avs.org/symposium/AVS58/pages/greetings.html
Technical Program: http://www2.avs.org/symposium
Catherine Meyers | EurekAlert!
Applicability of dynamic facilitation theory to binary hard disk systems
08.12.2016 | Nagoya Institute of Technology
Will Earth still exist 5 billion years from now?
08.12.2016 | KU Leuven
In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.
Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...
Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
08.12.2016 | Life Sciences
08.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy
08.12.2016 | Materials Sciences