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Future vision: nuclear waste recycling

United States – The US uses only around 1% of the total energy available from nuclear power processes, meaning there is a significant amount of radioactive waste but not sustainable solution for it. The question of what to do with this nuclear fuel was at the heart of new research at the University of Notre Dame. The outcome: it may be able to take nuclear waste recycling to the next level.

‘Nuclear energy accounts for 20% of the United States electricity,’ comments professor Peter C. Burns, who oversaw the research project.

He points out that the sector has been standing still ever since President Jimmy Carter outlawed nuclear fuel recycling some forty years ago. ‘Despite the fact that nuclear energy has a low carbon footprint.’

Burns and his research group have now developed a method that causes uranium – a naturally occurring element – to form clusters of uranium nano-molecules that could potentially be turned back into useable fuel.

This innovative process starts after a used fuel rod, which holds the uranium to produce nuclear energy, has been cooled under water for 10 years. After cooling down, the waste can be dissolved to form initial uranium nano-molecules, which are then filtered to purify the uranium.

Burns explains that this development could benefit filtration systems in the nuclear waste recycling process.

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