Australian news, and some related international items

As nuclear waste piles up, scientists try to beat the problems of corrosion in waste containers

As nuclear waste piles up, scientists seek the best long-term storage solutions.  Researchers study and model corrosion in the materials proposed for locking away the hazardous waste C and EN, by Mitch Jacoby, MARCH 30, 2020 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 98, ISSUE 12

Regardless of whether you are for or against nuclear power, and no matter what you think of nuclear weapons, the radioactive waste is already here, and we have to deal with it.”


More than a quarter million metric tons of highly radioactive waste sits in storage near nuclear power plants and weapons production facilities worldwide, with over 90,000 metric tons in the US alone. Emitting radiation that can pose serious risks to human health and the environment, the waste, much of it decades old, awaits permanent disposal in geological repositories, but none are operational. With nowhere to go for now, the hazardous materials and their containers continue to age. That unsustainable situation is driving corrosion experts to better understand how steel, glass, and other materials proposed for long-term nuclear waste storage containers might degrade. Read on to learn how these researchers’ findings might help protect people and the environment from waste leakages.

That’s Gerald S. Frankel’s matter-of-fact take on the thousands of metric tons of used solid fuel from nuclear power plants worldwide and the millions of liters of radioactive liquid waste from weapons production that sit in temporary storage containers in the US. While these waste materials, which can be harmful to human health and the environment, wait for a more permanent home, their containers age. In some cases, the aging containers have already begun leaking their toxic contents.

“It’s a societal problem that has been handed down to us from our parents’ generation,” says Frankel, who is a materials scientist at the Ohio State University. “And we are—more or less—handing it to our children.”……..

Vitrification of nuclear waste seems to be well established by now, but actually it still faces complex problems,” says Ashutosh Goel, a materials scientist at Rutgers University. The plan at Hanford, for example, calls for entombing nuclear waste in borosilicate glass and encasing the glass in stainless-steel canisters. Yet the exact formulation of the glass, or glasses, is still under investigation.

Open questions include the following: What glass compositions will lead to the highest uptake of nuclear waste? How suited are those glasses to vitrification? And how well will they resist corrosion after being interned for eons in a repository environment?
After 1,000 years or so, Goel says, the steel canister surrounding the glass will likely corrode, and groundwater may seep in and interact directly with the glass, degrading it. “The stability of the glass in the presence of groundwater represents the last line of defense against release of radionuclides” into our environment, he adds…….
stress corrosion cracking, which can occur in metals at stress points such as weld joints—like the ones used to seal the stainless-steel canisters of spent fuel……during manufacturing, stress develops at weld seams as they cool and contract. If corrosion sets in at those spots, then some materials can start to crack and fail. The iron-chrome-nickel-based stainless steel used in dry casks is a material prone to fail when corrosion kicks in…….. 

March 31, 2020 - Posted by | General News

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