Engineers develop safer way to store nuclear waste

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Sheffield University engineers have developed new techniques which could reduce by as much as 95 per cent the space taken up by dangerous nuclear waste.

The new approach could be used in the eventual clean-up of the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan.

It will also reduce the cost both of interim storage and final disposal.

Researchers have mixed plutonium-contaminated waste with blast furnace slag, then turning it into glass.

The process also effectively locks in the radioactive plutonium, creating a stable end product.

“The overall volume of plutonium contaminated wastes from operations and decommissioning of nuclear plants in the UK could be upwards of 31,000 square metres, enough to fill the clock tower of Big Ben seven times over,” said lead researcher Professor Neil Hyatt.

“Our process would reduce this waste volume to fit neatly within the confines of just one Big Ben tower.”

The current treatment method for many plutonium contaminated wastes involves cement encapsulation, a process which typically increases the overall volume.

Prof Hyatt said: “If we can reduce the volume of waste that eventually needs to be stored and buried underground, we can reduce the costs considerably. At the same time, our process can stabilise the plutonium in a more corrosion-resistant material, so this should improve the safety case and public acceptability of geological disposal.”