The Japanese government recently announced that it intends to dump more than 1.2 million tons of radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean, sparking global concern. The radioactive water in question was produced by the cooling procedure used to decommission the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power facility following the devastating 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
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The water is believed to contain hazardous, radioactive materials or radionuclides that could be active and have long half-lives (effectively taking a long time to disintegrate), posing a serious threat to ecosystems and human health globally, even after being treated by an advanced liquid processing system (ALPS).
Although they have been employed for radionuclide removal, conventional materials such as clay minerals, activated carbon, carbon nanotubes, and resins are hampered by their low adsorption capacity, poor selectivity, and delayed adsorption kinetics.
Due to this, scientists are currently investigating cutting-edge nanomaterials for this purpose, including porous organic polymers (POPs), metal-organic frameworks (MOFs), covalent organic frameworks (COFs), and porous aromatic frameworks (PAFs). These materials are attractive prospects for radioactive removal because of their high specific surface area, numerous pore structures, remarkable stability, and flexible design.
A research team led by Professor Xiangke Wang of North China Electric Power University in Beijing, P. R. China, is leading the charge in developing nanomaterials and technology that can eliminate radionuclides from the environment.
The researchers shed light on this emerging study, higher requirements for nanomaterial design, and the execution of tactics and strengthened collaboration needed to mitigate any harm caused to aquatic and land ecosystems in a recent review article published in the journal Eco-Environment & Health.
We intend to create high-performance porous materials and technologies for the efficient removal of radionuclides from practical environments, as well as a reserve of advanced materials and technologies that can be used or further developed to deal with future nuclear accidents.
Xiangke Wang, Professor, North China Electric Power University
Among the different technologies under consideration, electrocatalysis has emerged as a next-generation approach that provides continuous extraction of radionuclides via reduction or oxidation utilizing electric fields. Because of its controllability, efficiency, and environmental friendliness, it is seen as a viable solution for sewage treatment.
This approach has also been demonstrated to effectively recover uranium from seawater, emphasizing its potential. Adsorption is also notable for its low cost, simplicity, and practicability.
Although these materials and technologies appear promising, several issues need to be resolved before their full promise can be realized. A deeper understanding of material structures and radionuclide capture mechanisms is necessary, as is recycling resource nuclides.
Other challenges include the complexity of radionuclide forms in practical environments, the need for simpler and environmentally friendly material preparation processes, and the investigation of collaborative technology systems.
Prof. Wang anticipates that this discovery will spark a broad discussion among scientists regarding material design and technological advancements related to radionuclide removal.
He concluded, “The ultimate goal is to apply these nanomaterials and technologies in real-world environmental conditions to promote sustainable development and safeguard our planet from the threats of radioactive contamination.”
Liu, X., et al. (2023) Advanced porous materials and emerging technologies for radionuclides removal from Fukushima radioactive water. Eco-Environment & Health. doi:10.1016/j.eehl.2023.09.001