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Nuclear Energy

Butterfly Molecule May Provide Key for Nuclear Waste Cleanup

Scientists from the University of Edinburgh, working with colleagues from the US and Canada, have created a previously unseen uranium molecule that they believe could help in the cleanup of nuclear waste.

The butterfly-shaped uranium compound is similar to radioactive molecules that scientists have assumed are key components of nuclear waste. However, these compounds were thought to be too unstable to exist for very long. The researchers have found that their created compound is, in fact, robust, which suggests that the similar molecule within nuclear waste may be as well.

The scientists believe that their findings suggest the molecule may play a role in forming clusters of radioactive material in nuclear waste, something which is difficult to separate during cleanup.

However, by targeting this butterfly-type molecule in the treatment process for nuclear waste, the nuclear industry may, in fact, be able to create a more efficient cleanup system. In a perfect world, all radioactive materials from spent fuel could be recovered and made safe or even be reused. Let’s hope this moves us in that direction.

“We have made a molecule that, in theory, should not exist, because its bridge-shaped structure suggests it would quickly react with other chemicals,” said Professor Polly Arnold from the University of Edinburgh School of Chemistry. “This discovery that this particular form of uranium is so stable could help optimise processes to recycle valuable radioactive materials and so help manage the UK’s nuclear legacy.”

Source: University of Edinburgh
Image Source: Tim Collins, Plinkk on Flickr

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