Science 2 min read

Waste Products from Nuclear Power Generation Finds New Use

jaroslava V /

jaroslava V /

Chemists have figured out how to transform waste products from nuclear power generation into valuable commodity chemicals and energy sources.

The process used to create nuclear energy leads to a radioactive by-product known as depleted uranium (DU). Due to health risks, expensive facilities are usually necessary to store DU.

Alternately, the nuclear energy by-product can also be used to manufacture the controversial armor-piercing missiles.

However, a new paper in the Journal of the American Chemical Society suggests that DU may be more useful than we imagined. A team of researchers has managed to convert ethylene into ethane using a catalyst that contains depleted uranium.

Here’s why the research is a huge breakthrough.

Converting Waste From Nuclear Power Generation to Valuable Commodity

According to the researchers, two fused pentagonal rings of carbon, known as pentalene, are a vital part of the reaction. The rings enable the uranium to inject electrons into ethylene, which in turn adds hydrogen to become ethane.

Ethylene is an alkene that’s useful for making plastics. Ethane, on the other hand, can produce various other valuable compounds.

These include ethanol, hydrogenated oils, and petrochemicals, which can serve as an energy source.

One of the researchers, Professor Richard Layfield, said:

“The fact that we can use depleted uranium to do this provides proof that we don’t need to be afraid of it as it might actually be very useful for us.”

With that said, the researchers pointed out that converting ethylene to ethane is not entirely new. But, this is the first time the Depleted Uranium is playing a vital role in the process.

“Nobody has thought to use DU in this way before,” says one of the researchers, Professor Geoff Cloke. “While converting ethylene into ethane is nothing new, the use or uranium is a key milestone.”

The process eases the burden of having to store radioactive waste from nuclear power generation.

Read More: How Lasers Could Solve a Global Nuclear Waste Problem

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Sumbo Bello

Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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