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U of S discovery may reduce nuclear energy risk

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University of Saskatchewan researchers are looking for ways to improve the storage of nuclear waste, and they’ve made an important discovery that could reduce the risk associated with nuclear energy.

While nuclear energy holds potential, the two issues remain: how to prevent leaching into the environment, and the safe disposal of large amounts of nuclear waste.

“With nuclear energy, there are so many positives about it,” said Andrew Grosvenor, chemistry professor at the University of Saskatchewan, and supervisor of research.

“But the downside, of course, is we're generating nuclear waste, and that needs to be stored in a safe and contained way so that it doesn't leach out into the environment and impact the environment.”

University of Saskatchewan PhD student Mehrnaz Mikhchian has been testing different material compositions for storing high-level nuclear waste with the help of the Canadian Light Source in Saskatoon.

“We wanted to examine the corrosion behaviour of these materials. However, when you are working on nuclear arrays or waste materials, you cannot say for sure this is the best candidate,” Mikhchian said.

“You need to work on different materials to find which one is the best candidate. So we had four different projects because we wanted to look at different materials and we also wanted to compare these behaviours with the borosilicate glass, which is a current base for material.”

Borosilicate glass is commonly used to contain and sequester nuclear waste, but it is limited in its capacity to store waste.

Mikhchian evaluated including crystalline ceramic compositions to test corrosion behaviour.

“When you are adding the crystalline materials into the borosilicate glass, you can improve their behaviour, their corrosion behaviour, their base loading,” Mikhchian said.

“So this is why these materials are important. So the crystalline material, they can incorporate larger base elements and the glass can accommodate smaller arrays.”

Mikhchian said one of the benefits of this study is the ability to study corrosion behaviour over a long period of time.

“Most of the studies are within the five to seven days, two, three, four months,” she said. “It’s very rare to have a study over a year or two years, so we wanted to do the long-term study. It’s very important to see how these materials behave over a long term.”

While Mikhchian is completing her research this year, she said more work is needed to continue looking for better and safer ways to store nuclear waste.

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