Scientific breakthrough in the transmutation of isotopes
Collaboration between the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) DG, the University of Jena (Germany), the University of Strathclyde (UK), Imperial College (UK), and the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (UK) has led to the transmutation of long-lived radioactive iodine-129 into short-lived iodine-128 using very high intensity laser radiation. Until recently, transmutation could only be achieved in nuclear reactors or particle accelerators.
Transmutation – making use of nuclear reactions that will change very long-lived radioactive elements into less radioactive or shorter-lived products – is a concept for nuclear waste management under development in several countries. Very long-lived iodine-129 has a half-life of 15.7 million years, high radiotoxicity and mobility, and is an important constituent of nuclear waste – making it one of the primary risk considerations in the nuclear industry. It currently has to be sheathed in glass and buried deep underground. Handling of iodine is also difficult as it is corrosive and volatile. Through the laser-induced photo-transmutation process, this long-lived isotope was transmuted first to the short-lived isotope iodine-128, which then decays with a half-life of 25 minutes to the stable inert gas xenon-128. The experiments demonstrate the feasibility of transmuting radioactive iodine-129; limitations to scaling up this technique may be the high energy consumption of the laser and the low cross sections of the elements in question, resulting in low transmutation efficiencies.
Joseph Magill | alfa
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