There are few phrases more viscerally terrifying than “Radioactive Nuclear Waste.” It captures the imagination and brings to mind visions of Chernobyl, mushroom clouds, and half-lives lasting hundreds of thousands of years. Nuclear power is one of the most effective options for power in a post-oil world, but there is a huge drawback in terms of the amount of waste the process creates. The United States in particular creates about 2,000 metric tons of the stuff per year, and the best solution right now is to put it as far into the earth as we can, which is a complicated and dangerous process. However, there is a simple and awesome way to ease the process: turn it into glass.
The process involves taking whatever contaminated material you have, filters, protective, scrap, or what have you, and combine it with blast furnace slag. Then the material is put through vitrification, which is very simply the process by which substance is turned into glass, and the radioactive material is suspended within. This process reduces the amount of waste by 90%, making the disposal of the waste both simpler and safer.
The process hasn’t been attempted on plutonium-contaminated waste as of yet, rather they have been using an analogue called cerium, which is safer to perfect the vitrification process with. But if the process remains successful, it will usher in a new era of waste disposal that will help make nuclear power safer and better for the future.
What Sparks Our Fire: Innovation to make the future safer and lessen the footprint of our power production.
Does this new technique make you feel better about nuclear power?