Scientists in Germany and India are reporting development of a new “smart” polymer that reduces the amount of radioactive waste produced during routine operation of nuclear reactors.
Structural materials such as carbon steel in power plants’ water cooling systems form deposits of metal oxides when they interact with coolants. In nuclear power plants, these oxides trap radioactive ions, leading to buildups of radioactivity that require costly cleanups of reactor surfaces. Cobalt, present in some alloys used in the reactors’ water systems, is a major contributor toward this problem because of its long half-life. In the study, the researchers created an adsorbent material that - unlike conventional ion-exchange resins that are frequently used in reactors - is selective for cobalt but has the unique ability of disregarding iron-based ions. According to the researchers, the polymer’s high selectivity increases its appeal, for use in decontamination processes in reactors that utilize a variety of structural materials.