A Promising Cement Looks to Be our Safest Solution in Storing Nuclear Waste

by Samantha Englert

Fossil fuels remain the current major source of energy globally. However, the supply is limited and over-consumption is associated with carbon dioxide emission and environmental pollution. As an alternative, the world has increasingly produced its electricity through nuclear fission power. While this transition is associated with significant reductions in carbon dioxide release, the waste generated by nuclear power is radioactive, and difficult to dispose of.

Recently, a group of British scientists working for the Diamond Light Source (DLS), a UK science center, have shown that cement may safely and efficiently store radioactive waste produced by nuclear power plants. Key to the research team’s success, is the construction of a geological disposal facility (GDF), deep underground, to bury the radioactive waste within this cement backbone. However, the British government will not commence GDF development until the scientists can guarantee that the nuclear waste may be safely stored for approximately 100,000 years.

Dr. Claire Corkhill from the University of Sheffield is using Diamond’s Long-Duration Experiment (LDE) synchrotron facility to assess the cement’s interaction with water and other underground environmental factors over a 100,000-year time frame. Yet, Dr. Corkhill and her research team are able to innovatively perform these experiments over only two years by taking advantage of the unique properties of Diamond’s synchrotron (a source of light emitted by powerful electron x-rays). The scientists use the light to evaluate the structural and chemical associations of radioactive waste, cement, and the surrounding environment. Though their studies are not yet complete, they have already developed a new cement material for the GDF. Containing particular mineral phases, this modified cement can highly absorb concentrated radioactive elements up to 50 percent more than the current cement storage solutions. Dr. Corkhill’s promising research and developments will likely shape future solutions to safely storing nuclear waste.

Unknown. 2016. UK science leads the way in nuclear research. Diamond Light Source. Feb, 2016. [diamond.ac.uk]

Palmer, Ewan. 2016. British Scientists Designing Cement to Safely Store Nuclear Waste for 100,000 Years. International Business Times. Feb 14, 2016. [ibtimes.co.uk]

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