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Recycling Waste, Wrangling Radionuclides

February 2015

Nuclear power is used to meet the world's electricity needs. Used nuclear fuel, or waste, is reprocessed in some countries—meaning plutonium is chemically separated from used nuclear fuel and is then recycled back into the mixed oxide fuel supply. The United States, however, does not reprocess because of the potential release of radioactive elements into the air.

In partnership with the University of Amsterdam, researchers at PNNL, funded by the DOE Office of Nuclear Energy, have found that metal-organic frameworks, or MOFs, can capture the radionuclides that are released during reprocessing of used nuclear fuel. These frameworks can be customized to attract and hold radioactive xenon and krypton isotopes as tiny cages, preventing their release to the environment. This research presents an opportunity for the United States to extend fuel supplies and minimize waste.

Further studies are planned, including evaluating the capability to use MOFs to separate xenon and krypton from air. To learn more about this research, read the manuscript published in Accounts of Chemical Research. Related work was recently published in Nature Materials.

PNNL Research Team: Debasis Banerjee, Amy Cairns, Carlos Fernandez, Jian Liu, Radha Motkuri, Satish Nune, Denis Strachan, and Praveen Thallapally.

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