Research Highlight

Polymer membrane removes nuclear waste, generates power

doi:10.1038/nindia.2020.77 Published online 1 May 2020

Researchers have made a polymer membrane that can capture and remove waste generated in a nuclear power plant1. This membrane, when used in a fuel cell, can also generate power that has the potential to charge mobiles and laptops.

Nuclear power plants generate waste that emit harmful radiation. Such waste have to be disposed of safely. Existing disposal methods store and remove waste in solution phase, which requires large spaces.

In search of a better alternative, the scientists from the Indian Institute of Technology (BHU) in Varanasi, and the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in Mumbai, India, synthesised the polymer membrane by bombarding specific polymer materials with silver ions. This led to the formation of ion-conducting nanochannels in the membrane. They then tested the membrane’s efficiency in storing and removing americium-241, a radioactive element that is prevalent in nuclear plant waste.    

The researchers, led by Pralay Maiti, found that the membrane captured the radioactive element from a water-based solution and then stored it in a condensed state in the nanochannels. This is a significant step since americium deposits particles in soil and water. Airborne particles can even travel far from the release site.  

If inhaled or swallowed, it could accumulate in the bone, the liver and muscle tissues, increasing the risks of cancer in humans.

The membrane’s structure is stable at high temperatures. When used in a fuel cell, it generates power from methanol, an inexpensive and widely available chemical. The membrane also showed efficiency in inhibiting corrosion. Maiti says the membrane can be used as a potential anticorrosive material to protect oil pipelines and containers against corrosion.


References

1. Prakash, O. et al. Fabrication of conducting nanochannels using accelerator for fuel cell membrane and removal of radionuclides: role of nanoparticles. ACS. Appl. Mater. Interfaces. (2020) doi: 10.1021/acsami.0c02845