The Department of Energy is funding the University of Idaho with $732K to prove the feasibility of using highly magnetic nanoparticles to reprocess used nuclear fuel.
If successful, scientists at the University of Idaho will kill three birds with one nanoparticle by recovering usable nuclear fuel, making nuclear waste easier and safer to dispose of, and accomplishing the task in an environmentally friendly way.Here's some heavy science for you:
The fundamental technology that makes the process possible is the ability to make the MNPs. These are tiny pieces of pure iron nanoparticles coated with a layer of iron oxides, commonly known as rust, just two nanometers thick. Because of their iron core, the MNPs are 10 times more magnetic than commercially available nanoparticles that typically are made entirely of iron oxide. The trick to using nanoparticles made of pure iron is the thin coating of iron oxide, which prevents the core from completely oxidizing into rust.And what kind of experts are needed?
The particles can be created in exact sizes, ranging from two nanometers to 100 nanometers in diameter. At their largest, scientists still could fit 100 million nanoparticles on the head of a pin. At their smallest, a pin head could fit 250 billion.
The project will explore a process applied to the MNPs that allows the tiny pieces of iron to selectively grab on to radioactive metals belonging to the actinides group of elements. The nanoparticles are coated by an organic molecule that acts like glue for other chemicals, in this case holding alkyl-oxa-diamide. This long-named chemical compound works like Velcro, grabbing and holding tennis balls. Except in this case, the tennis balls actually are radioactive metal ions.
Because the MNPs have such a high magnetic momentum, a small magnetic field selectively can yank the MNPs with attached radioactive molecules out of the nuclear waste. Once separated, a process breaks the bonds, separating the actinides from the nanoparticles, both of which can be reused.
“We need a nuclear specialist, physicist and organic biochemist to even make the right experiments,” said Paszczynski. “It truly is an interdisciplinary research group.”This stuff is way beyond my knowledge but it sounds cool. Best of luck!
Picture above is a chain of magnetic nanoparticles.