Washington State University conducted tests to study the effects of the chemical substance known as technetium-99.

The study was led by John McCloy, an associate professor in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering along with Jamie Weaver, a chemistry graduate student. They worked in collaboration with researchers from the Office of River Protection and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

What Is Technetium-99?

Technetium-99 is the chemical by-product derived as a result of plutonium weapon production. It is being considered a major problem as scientists are trying to find new methods of disposing the nuclear waste.

In fact, there exists about 2,000 pounds of technetium-99 which is stored in 177 storage tanks at the Hanford nuclear site in Washington.

The element is readily soluble in water and so poses an intense risk. Due to its volatility, it can easily contaminate water streams which would cause major health issues.

Nuclear Waste

Nuclear wastes are generated from nuclear power plants in significant amounts and thus, it needs to be managed and disposed of properly.

The most important issue concerning the nuclear waste is the management of its toxic nature, so that it poses no risk to the workers or the general public.

New Methods For Cleanup

The Washington State University conducted the study of technetium-99 in PNNL's highly specialized Radiochemical Processing Laboratory.

Researchers carried out various tests with the compound. Their aim was to precisely observe technetium-99 and determine how it may be stored.

They found that the sodium forms of the element reacts differently in the compound than in any other alkalis, which may go a long way in defining why technetium-99 is so reactive with water. This may also reveal the reason behind its volatility.

"The structure and spectral signatures of these compounds will aid in refining the understanding of technetium incorporation into nuclear waste glasses," said McCloy.

Other Strategies

Currently, U.S. Department of Energy at Hanford is constructing a waste treatment plant. They aim to store threatening nuclear waste in a glass.

However, researchers have to find an alternative as the entire technetium-99 cannot be incorporated in a glass. The volatilized gas would also be needed to be recycled back into the system.

These innovative ideas may pave the way for a safer future. However, the current threat of nuclear contamination due to the high volume of nuclear waste being produced seems to be looming. It has become essential to come up with a reliable way to dispose these wastes.

The study was published in the journal Inorganic Chemistry.

Photo: Rodrigo Gómez Sanz | Flickr

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