Published on Tuesday March 13 2012 (AEST)
A new uranium molecule developed by scientists from the University of Edinburgh can literally clean the waste that nuclear power plants leave behind.
The researchers found out that the molecule may be involved in forming clusters of radioactive material in waste that are difficult to separate during the cleanup process.
The new discovery could lead the nuclear industry clean up its image, as the announcement came at precisely a year after the Fukushima events that lead to one of the worst disasters in history.
The new uranium compound, also studied by US and Canadian scientists, was produced by reacting a common uranium compound with a nitrogen and carbon-based material. The resulted structure had a butterfly shape and the funny thing is that theory says it should not exist.
“We have made a molecule that, in theory, should not exist, because its bridge-shaped structure suggests it would quickly react with other chemicals. 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,” says Professor Polly Arnold of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Chemistry.
Nuclear power is maybe the only alternative energy resource that needs to be carefully taken care of – it can become so destructive and yet so clean. Maybe this is the trade-off when using something so powerful in a so sensitive environment.