Global Challenges/Chemistry Solutions

Promoting Personal Safety & National Security: Improving detection of radioactive material in nuclear waste water

December 09, 2013

nuclear waste
Detecting single molecules of radioactive materials uranium and plutonium in nuclear waste water could become possible with development of a novel nanosensor.
Credit: iStock/Thinkstock

Summary

As the Fukushima crisis continues to remind the world of the potential dangers of nuclear disposal and unforeseen accidents, scientists are reporting progress toward a new way to detect the radioactive materials uranium and plutonium in waste water. Their report on the design of a highly sensitive nanosensor appears in ACS’ The Journal of Physical Chemistry C.

Today’s solution is a new way to detect the radioactive materials uranium and plutonium in waste water. As the Fukushima crisis continues to remind the world of the potential dangers of nuclear disposal and unforeseen accidents, scientists are reporting the design of a highly sensitive nanosensor that could detect even the smallest radiation leaks in nuclear waste water. The report appears in ACS’ The Journal of Physical Chemistry C.

Jorge Seminario, Ph.D., points out that it’s highly likely that radioactive uranium and plutonium have leaked into the soil and groundwater near nuclear facilities. This contamination poses a serious threat to the environment and human health. Although detecting these materials even at low levels is important for determining whether a leak is occurring, traditional methods of doing so are not effective.
Here’s Seminario, who is at Texas A&M University, and is the lead author of the paper.

“Recently, other groups have reported that radioactive materials in water can clump onto flakes of graphene oxide. Based on theoretical models and calculations, they predicted that graphene oxide could sense and identify extremely low levels — single molecules — of various substances. My team set out to see how best to adapt this for uranium and plutonium sensing.”

Using the latest advances in supercomputing, Seminario’s group modeled several variations of graphene oxide to figure out which one would be the most sensitive and selective in detecting uranium and plutonium in nuclear waste water. They concluded that attaching something called a carbonyl functional group to graphene oxide would serve as an effective nanosensor for these radioactive materials.

Smart Chemists/Innovative Thinking

Smart chemists. Innovative thinking. That’s the key to solving global challenges of the 21st century. Please check out more of our full-length podcasts on wide-ranging issues facing chemistry and science, such as promoting public health, developing new fuels and confronting climate change, at www.acs.org/GlobalChallenges. Today’s podcast was written by Katie Cottingham—that’s me—and I’m at the American Chemical Society in Washington.

Jorge Seminario, Ph.D.
Jorge Seminario, Ph.D., Texas A&M University