Intelligent Energy

A decontamination plan for water at Japan's nuclear facility

A decontamination plan for water at Japan's nuclear facility

Posting in Energy

Seawater, after cooling fuel rods at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, is now radioactive. Sounds like a job for Kurion. The U.S. start-up is one of four companies tasked with treating the water and containing the radioactive materials.

Since Japan's dual natural disasters last month, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) has been cooling fuel rods with seawater at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant to prevent a meltdown. Some of this water has escaped or been released into the Pacific. But about 87,500 tons of water contaminated with radioactive materials remains sitting in storage tanks and complicating the plant's repair efforts.

To deal with the problem, TEPCO told Reuters yesterday they will treat the water with a process developed by Toshiba, Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy, Areva, and Kurion, a small U.S. start-up. I first wrote about Kurion's efforts a year ago to expand vitrification's role in nuclear waste containment within the United States. Vitrification (shown above) is a process that can turn liquid nuclear waste into glass rods for storage—aiding with possible leakage and handling issues. Since then, Kurion began testing its Modular Vitrification System, went into contract with engineering company CH2MHill to help clean up Washington State's Hanford site and recently, caught the interest of TEPCO.

The Japanese company says in June they will begin adsorbing and separating the radioactive elements from its stored water. The liquid could then resume its previous cooling responsibilities. Particulars on the collaborative clean-up strategy they are adopting are currently scarce. But for its part, Areva says it will use chemical reagents to isolate and then recover radioactive elements as it does in its French nuclear facilities Marcoule and La Hague.

How Kurion's glass tech might come into play hasn't been made clear, but Greentech Media reports:

TEPCO in this situation is dealing with seawater, not spent fuel. Thus, it probably isn’t looking for full vitrification treatment. Instead, TEPCO will likely exploit Kurion’s ion-specific media for pre-treating spent fuel before vitrification begins.

Related on SmartPlanet:

Image: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

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Melissa Mahony

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Melissa Mahony has written for Scientific American Mind, Audubon Magazine, Plenty Magazine and LiveScience. Formerly, she was an editor at Wildlife Conservation magazine. She holds degrees from Boston College and New York University's Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting Program. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure