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Bye Chernobyl! Rare Material That Can Clean, Recycle Radioactive Waste Discovered

Jun 14, 2016 09:58 PM EDT

Chernobyl could be a thing of the past as scientists recently discovered a rare material that could clear up and recycle radioactive waste. This revolutionary material could clean waste from nuclear plants in a safer and cheaper way than current practices.

The study was conducted by a team of scientists from the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (EPFL) and published in the journal Nature Communications. The said material tagged as SBMOF-1 is classified as a nanoporous crystal that's used to clean carbon dioxide emissions and other pollutants. Scientists found out that SBMOF-1 can separate volatile radionuclides from nuclear fuel processing, xenon and krypton, at ambient or room temperature.

Because it can work at room temperature, Science Daily adds that the new material can save energy and costs while synthesizing them for reuse. To date, nuclear energy has been known to be a cheaper alternative to carbon-based fossil, but the problem lies on the dangerous pollutants it emits during processing. The current cleaning solution, cryogenic distillation, is not only expensive but is risky as it could cause an explosion. The breakthrough discovery of the rare material eliminates such risk at a cost-effective way.

The researchers further tested the material by activating it in an extremely hot temperature. When they activated SBMOF-1 by heating it up to 300 degrees Celsius, which is thrice the temperature of boiling water, the material didn't behave normally with its pores partially blocked. On the other hand, at 100 degrees (the normal temperature of boiling water), it acted better with its pores squeezed in on themselves.

Praveen K. Thallapally, the author of the study from EPFL, told Research Gate that his team used a molecular modeling tool to screen 5,000 nanoporous materials. Through molecular simulation, it was easier to screen such a high number of material with almost-accurate results. Results showed that SBMOF-1 is the best nanoporous material in clearing radioactive waste.

"This is a great example of computer-inspired material discovery," Thapally said. "Usually the experimental results are more realistic than computational ones. This time, the computer modeling showed us something the experiments weren't telling us."

Thallapally said that armed with this new discovery and knowledge on how it behaves, they can explore how SBMOF-1 can be used further for nuclear recycling.

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