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The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.
  • 2017-10-05 09:05:36
  • Article ID: 682335

New 'Molecular Trap' Cleans More Radioactive Waste From Nuclear Fuel Rods

  • Credit: WFU / Ken Bennett

    Wake Forest physics professor Timo Thonhasuer talks with postdoctoral fellow Stephanie Jensen about their research on the capture of radioactive waste materials in nuclear power plants.

A new method for capturing radioactive waste from nuclear power plants is cheaper and more effective than current methods, a potential boon for the energy industry, according to new research published in the journal Nature Communications.

 

“Our capture method by far outperforms all current technologies and may change the landscape of energy production worldwide,” said Timo Thonhauser, the Wake Forest University computational physicist on the research team.

 

The new molecular trap, a metal-organic framework (MOF) called MIL-101-Cr, was developed by scientists led by Jing Li at Rutgers University, analyzed by Thonhauser’s lab at Wake Forest and measured by scientists in Yves Chabal’s lab at the University of Texas-Dallas. 

 

This unique MOF removes nearly all radioactive iodide from used nuclear fuel rods. Regulations in the U.S. require reprocessing plants to scrub 99.967 percent of radioactive iodides from the rods. The MIL-101-Cr MOF removes 99.979–99.984 percent.

 

MOFs are a relatively new class of materials in which metal corners are connected by an organic linker.

 

“That becomes an entire framework with empty space in the middle,” Thonhauser explained. “It looks kind of like a sponge.”

 

The breakthrough came when the researchers at Rutgers attached “grabbers” to the metal corners of their MOF, creating MIL-101-Cr, an industrial adsorbent that is very good at capturing one particular byproduct of nuclear energy production – radioactive iodide. This substance has been linked to cancer in humans.

 

As the research team’s computational physicist, Thonhauser, with post-doctoral assistant Stephanie Jensen, ran theoretical tests of the MOF using a supercomputer. Their aim was to determine why and how the trap works so it can be improved in further testing. 

 

In fact, this MOF is three to four times better than the current industrial adsorbent used by nuclear power plants. It’s also cheaper, because it doesn’t rely on a precious metal such as silver to form its corners.

 

That fact alone could save on fuel costs around the globe. A 2015 report by the World Nuclear Association ranked the cost of nuclear power in the U.S. lower than coal but higher than natural gas. 

 

The research behind “Capture of organic iodides from nuclear waste by metal-organic framework-based molecular traps” is funded by a joint grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.

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Heavy Quarks Probe the Early Universe

New studies of behaviors of particles containing heavy quarks shed light into what the early universe looked like in its first microseconds.

Cool Roofs Have Water Saving Benefits Too

The energy and climate benefits of cool roofs have been well established: By reflecting rather than absorbing the sun's energy, light-colored roofs keep buildings, cities, and even the entire planet cooler. Now a new study by the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has found that cool roofs can also save water by reducing how much is needed for urban irrigation.

The Blob That Ate the Tokamak: Physicists Gain Understanding of How Bubbles at the Edge of Plasmas Can Drain Heat and Reduce Fusion Reaction Efficiency

Scientists at PPPL have completed new simulations that could provide insight into how blobs at the plasma edge behave. The simulations, produced by a code called XGC1 developed by a national team based at PPPL, performed kinetic simulations of two different regions of the plasma edge simultaneously.

Scientists Solve a Magnesium Mystery in Rechargeable Battery Performance

A Berkeley Lab-led research team has discovered a surprising set of chemical reactions involving magnesium that degrade battery performance even before the battery can be charged up. The findings could steer the design of next-gen batteries.

Extreme Light Trapping

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Innovative Design Using Loops of Liquid Metal Can Improve Future Fusion Power Plants, Scientists Say

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ESnet's Science DMZ Design Could Help Transfer, Protect Medical Research Data

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Breakthrough Cuttable, Flexible, Submersible and Ballistic-Tested Lithium-ion Battery Offers New Paradigm of Safety and Performance

Breakthrough Cuttable, Flexible, Submersible and Ballistic-Tested Lithium-ion Battery Offers New Paradigm of Safety and Performance


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Two ORNL-Led Research Teams Receive $10.5 Million to Advance Quantum Computing for Scientific Applications

DOE's Office of Science has awarded two research teams, each headed by a member of ORNL's Quantum Information Science Group, more than $10 million over 5 years to both assess the feasibility of quantum architectures in addressing big science problems and to develop algorithms capable of harnessing the massive power predicted of quantum computing systems. The two projects are intended to work in concert to ensure synergy across DOE's quantum computing research spectrum and maximize mutual benefits.

Department of Energy Awards Flow Into Argonne

DOE Secretary Rick Perry awarded Argonne with nearly $4.7 million in projects as part of the DOE's Office of Technology Transition's Technology Commercialization Fund (TCF) in September.

NIH Awards $6.5 Million to Berkeley Lab for Augmenting Structural Biology Research Experience

The NIH has awarded $6.5 million to Berkeley Lab to integrate existing synchrotron structural biology resources to better serve researchers. The grant will establish a center based at the Lab's Advanced Light Source (ALS) called ALS-ENABLE that will guide users through the most appropriate routes for answering their specific biological questions.

LIGO Announces Detection of Gravitational Waves From Colliding Neutron Stars

The U.S.-based Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory and the Virgo detector in Italy announced on Oct. 16 that all three of their detectors had picked up the ripples, or gravitational waves, from two neutron stars that collided 130 million years ago. Among other discoveries, the detection allowed scientists to use gravitational waves to directly calculate the rate at which the universe is expanding.

WVU Energy Conference to Address State's Economic Opportunities

West Virginia University will look at the state's emerging energy economy through industry experts, public policy organizations, environmental groups and academic institutions at the sixth annual National Energy Conference Oct. 20.

Exploring the Exotic World of Quarks and Gluons at the Dawn of the Exascale

As nuclear physicists delve ever deeper into the heart of matter, they require the tools to reveal the next layer of nature's secrets. Nowhere is that more true than in computational nuclear physics. A new research effort led by theorists at DOE's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (Jefferson Lab) is now preparing for the next big leap forward in their studies thanks to funding under the 2017 SciDAC Awards for Computational Nuclear Physics.

Matthew Latimer Receives 2017 Lytle Award

A staff member at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Acceleratory Laboratory, Matthew Latimer is in charge of seven spectroscopy beamlines at SSRL. He was recently selected for the 2017 Farrel W. Lytle Award, established by the SSRL Users' Organization Executive Committee. The award promotes accomplishments in synchrotron science and supports collaboration among visiting scientists and staff who conduct research at SSRL.

Jefferson Lab Completes 12 GeV Upgrade

Nuclear physicists are now poised to embark on a new journey of discovery into the fundamental building blocks of the nucleus of the atom. The completion of the 12 GeV Upgrade Project of the Continuous Electron Beam Accelerator Facility (CEBAF) at the Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (Jefferson Lab) heralds this new era to image nuclei at their deepest level.

Sunderrajan to Lead Science and Technology Partnerships and Outreach Directorate

Suresh Sunderrajan has been named the associate laboratory director (ALD) for the Science and Technology Partnerships and Outreach (STPO) Directorate at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory.

Career Awards Advance Research for Jefferson Lab Researchers

Two researchers affiliated with the U.S. Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility have received 2017 Early Career Research Program awards from the DOE's Office of Science.


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Heavy Quarks Probe the Early Universe

New studies of behaviors of particles containing heavy quarks shed light into what the early universe looked like in its first microseconds.

Discovering the Genetic Timekeepers in Bioenergy Crops

A new class of plant-specific genes required for flowering control in temperate grasses is found.

New Technology Illuminates Microbial Dark Matter

Demonstrating the microfluidic-based, mini-metagenomics approach on samples from hot springs shows how scientists can delve into microbes that can't be cultivated in a laboratory.

Tiny Green Algae Reveal Large Genomic Variation

First complete picture of genetic variations in a natural algal population could help explain how environmental changes affect global carbon cycles.

A Complex Little Alga that Lives by the Sea

The genetic material of Porphyra umbilicalis reveals the mechanisms by which it thrives in the stressful intertidal zone at the edge of the ocean.

Precise Radioactivity Measurements: A Controversy Settled

Simultaneous measurements of x-rays and gamma rays emitted in radioactive nuclear decays show that the vacancy left by an electron's departure, not the atomic structure, influences whether gamma rays are released.

OLYMPUS Experiment Sheds Light on Inner Workings of Protons

Seven-year study explains how packets of light are exchanged when protons meet electrons.

Explorations of the Universal Glue

The newly upgraded CEBAF Accelerator opens door to strong force studies.

Understanding the Rice Genome for Bioenergy Research

Genome-wide rice studies yield first major, large-scale collection of mutations for grass model crops, vital to boosting biofuel production.

Bringing Visual "Magic" to Light

Scientists create widely controllable ultrathin optical components that allow virtual objects to be projected in real environments.


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