Purging Nuclear Waste, Russian Style

Russia has gotten bad press lately as the source of contraband plutonium and the home of unsafe nuclear plants. But in the field of radioactive-waste disposal, the Russians are making some valuable contributions. The U.S. Energy Dept. is working with scientists from the V.G. Khlopin Radium Institute in St. Petersburg on a process that could reduce by 90% the volume of one kind of radioactive waste that must be formed into glass for long-term storage. That could save billions of dollars. The process is being used on highly radioactive wastes that were generated from reprocessing of spent fuel. It uses carbon dicarbollide and other reagents to separate radioactive nuclides from other waste components such as nitric acid. Only the nuclides need to be vitrified.

The Russian method was a "great, great" success in tests at the Energy Dept.'s Idaho National Engineering Laboratory, Clyde W. Frank, Deputy Assistant Secretary for technology development, announced in August. The concentrated radioactive materials wouldn't appeal to nuclear terrorists because they contain little plutonium or uranium.

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