Butterfly molecule may aid nuclear waste clean up

Original: R&D.com
March 13, 2012

University of Edinburgh scientists have produced a previously unseen uranium molecule, in a move that could improve clean up of nuclear waste. The distinctive butterfly-shaped compound is similar to radioactive molecules that scientists had proposed to be key components of nuclear waste. However, these were thought too unstable to exist for long. Researchers have shown the compound to be robust, which implies that molecules with a similar structure may be present in radioactive waste.

Better clean up

University scientists, who carried out the study, say their findings suggest the molecule may play a role in forming clusters of radioactive material in waste. These are difficult to separate during clean up. Improving treatment processes for nuclear waste, including targeting this type of molecule, could help the nuclear industry move towards cleaner power generation. Ideally, all the radioactive materials from spent fuel can be recovered and made safe or used again. This would reduce the amount of waste and curb risks to the environment.

Distinctive shape

The Edinburgh team worked in collaboration with scientists in the United States and Canada to verify the structure of the uranium compound. They made the molecule by reacting a common uranium compound with a nitrogen and carbon-based material. Scientists used chemical and mathematical analyses to confirm the structure of the molecule’s distinctive butterfly shape. The study was published in Nature Chemistry.

Read the original article.

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