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Treated carbon pulls radioactive elements from water via Science Daily

Researchers have developed unique sorbents, target Fukushima accident site

Date:January 19, 2017

Source:Rice University

Summary:Scientists have developed inexpensive, oxidized carbon particles that extract radioactive metals from water. They said their materials may help purify contaminated waters stored after the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident.

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Researchers at Rice University and Kazan Federal University in Russia have found a way to extract radioactivity from water and said their discovery could help purify the hundreds of millions of gallons of contaminated water stored after the Fukushima nuclear plant accident.

They reported that their oxidatively modified carbon (OMC) material is inexpensive and highly efficient at absorbing radioactive metal cations, including cesium and strontium, toxic elements released into the environment when the Fukushima plant melted down after an earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.

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Tour and researchers at Lomonosov Moscow State University had already demonstrated a method to remove radionuclides from water using graphene oxide as a sorbent, as reported in Solvent Extraction and Ion Exchange late last year, but the new research suggests OMC is easier and far less expensive to process.

Treating the carbon particles with oxidizing chemicals increased their surface areas and “decorated” them with the oxygen molecules needed to adsorb the toxic metals. The particles were between 10 and 80 microns wide.

While graphene oxide excelled at removing strontium, Tour said, the two types of OMC were better at extracting cesium, which he said has been the hardest element to remove from water stored at Fukushima. The OMC was also much easier and less expensive to synthesize and to use in a standard filtration system, he said.

“We know we can use graphene oxide to trap the light radioactive elements of relevance to the Fukushima cleanup, namely cesium and strontium,” Tour said. “But in the second study, we learned we can move from graphene oxide, which remains more expensive and harder to make, to really cheap oxidized coke and related carbons to trap these elements.”

While other materials used for remediation of radioactive waste need to be stored with the waste they capture, carbon presents a distinct advantage, he said. “Carbon that has captured the elements can be burned in a nuclear incinerator, leaving only a very small amount of radioactive ash that’s much easier to store,” Tour said.

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